The first new play by a female playwright to be presented at Shakespeare’s Globe, old or new, is a restrained foray into madness – good idea – in a fictional early 18th century asylum run by a bigoted, drunken lunatic and his deranged son.
There’s none of the disturbing, outlandish theatricality of the Marat/Sade about Nell Leyshon’s perfectly enjoyable, simple scenario, nor too much wackiness or ferocity along the lines of Ken Campbell’s long ago The Madness Museum on television.
Instead, Jessica Swale’s tasteful staging on a bare boards setting is decked out with ballads and old songs, outings to the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (fan dancers, acrobats and a dancing bear) and St Giles (think Hogarth’s “Gin Lane”), and a thwarted love story between the waif-like, red-haired farm girl May Garnett (beguiling newcomer Rose Leslie) and her West Country sailor boy, Billy (Daon Broni).
An effete poetaster (Sam Crane) and his decorative Gardenia (Finty Williams) are embroiled in Arcadia, and the large and lovely Ella Smith as an all-purpose low-life doxy spreads a thin layer of grease over the proceedings.
Treatments have progressed from roast mice and exorcism to laxatives and leeches, but a happy conclusion – and signature Globe company hoe-down – is ensured once the liberal- minded governor (Phil Cheadle) gets the message and adds compassion to the list of prescriptions.