Mad Man Lucy Ellinson (Pushpin)
Mad Man Lucy Ellinson (Pushpin)
© Steve Tanner

Stealthily disturbing.

Prolific writer and award-winner Chris Goode revisits the Gogol classic short story Diary of a Mad Man to bring a clever update to centre stage in this Theatre Royal Plymouth production.

Janet Bird's tremendous three-sided, double-storey set allows action to move seamlessly between the central office, park bench, hospital, bedroom and more as we witness the descent into madness of minor civil servant Pushpin.

Lucy Ellinson (Grounded, Presumption, Speed Death of the Radiant Child) is charismatic as the office clique outsider whose gradual slide into insanity is heralded by talking dogs, Ronnie Barkeresque wordage, paranoia and a subtle but certain blending of the real and the imagined. And she takes us with her.

From the very outset, the audience is wrong-footed.

Pushpin is clearly played by a woman and the early drunken revels of his/her colleagues blurs the lines of period setting and of fiction/reality. Ellinson's engaging voiceovers and wry commentary, tremendous timing and facial expression (and wonderful glitterlips), draws us into a mundane world turning on its head and slowly disintegrating.

That erosion of reality includes mad moments of frenetic dance, Groundhog Day repeats, ear-pulling and canine love letters.

Initially I laughed aloud, and vainly tried to look for motif and themes, but soon abandoned that for the sheer enjoyment of the quirky piece – only to undergo a dawning realisation that actually there was little humour in watching the falling apart of a vulnerable being.

Nigel Barrett (England My England, Sexual Healing) is the bored buffoon of a Director overseeing the mundane routine of bureaucracy – stamping post blindfold and building pencil models – whose spoilt daughter is coveted by shy Pushkin, peering over the mounting "to do" pile on his desk.

Gemma Brockis (Speed Death of the Radiant Child, Pinocchio and Still Night) is convincing as the secretary, daughter and Mitzi, while Gareth Kieran Jones (Spying on Hiltler's Army, and the award-winning L8R) completes the very able cast.

A very watchable, uninterrupted 100 minutes.

– Karen Bussell