How does one perform madness? Distort the “normal”, cultivate an aberration, contort and grimace? Or make no change from a “stable” characterization, but let the words do the exposing? Adaptations of two non-dramatic European texts last week explored such challenging personae.

Living Pictures (Wales) produced Gogol’s path-breaking tale, Diary of a Madman (1835), presented by QTP and Centre Stage Creations, without acknowledging translator or dramatizer. Robert Bowman delivered it faithfully as a first-person monologue, tracing the government clerk’s descent into lunacy following heartbreak, but it didn’t click histrionically. His attempts to mould a more grotesque image as he “becomes” King of Spain appeared contrived. Playwrights examining this trope succeed by providing sane characters as a contrast: see Pirandello’s Enrico IV or Weiss’ Marat/Sade. Here, director Sinead Rushe creates no human figures to set Bowman’s delusions against, suggesting that Gogol’s story works best when read on the page, where our minds can run wild imagining the antihero’s deteriorating mental health, rather than see a patently obvious enactment of it.

Meanwhile, Shohan’s Jerā introduces to the Bengali stage Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore’s influential A Pure Formality (1994), where an inspector interrogates a famous author whose actions and speech seem fishy, if not crazy. Jagannath Guha Indianizes the screenplay convincingly, although converting it into an entirely male world by omitting the sole woman in the original. Anish Ghosh directs with an air of mystery that, unlike the shocking filmic finale, remains unresolved, so we never know when he shifts from reality to fantasy or back. Given that the movie starred Gerard Depardieu and Roman Polanski, the principals here compete admirably with equivocating portrayals. Saumya Sengupta (the writer) is so deadpan that we cannot tell whether he simply suffers from amnesia, is deliberately devious, or actually insane. Similarly, Saibal Banerjee (the police officer) never reveals the acuity of his detective skills, and the reason for his suspicion until much later. By leaving the conclusion enigmatic, Jerā may have improved Tornatore’s ending, which led to many cinematic imitators applying a turn-everything-upside-down climax, now formulaic.

(From The Telegraph, 16 December 2017)