West End’s Mad House is a must-watch production for multiple reasons, especially the performances. In true family affair fashion, it’s heavy at times, dark and dreary, but Theresa Rebeck’s story doesn’t miss a single beat addressing the harsh edges of people corrupted by money. It’s a story that digs into the desperation of wanting to be loved by a parent, and the lengths people are willing to go through to make themselves feel better about their terrible childhoods.
Starring Stranger Things’ David Harbour and the legendary Bill Pullman, West End’s Mad House is, first and foremost, a story about fathers and sons. It’s a story that digs into the toxic masculinity of horrific men who control everything around them and, in the end, find themselves in the worst kind of rut at the last leg of their lives. The production isn’t for the faint at heart, with crude, vile language at times that can be jarring, but the story will stay with you for a long, long time. Starring alongside Harbour and Pullman are Akiya Henry, Stephen Wight, and Sinead Matthews in carefully crafted roles that’ll hit on all fronts.
Akiya Henry is an especially standout performer without whom the production would falter. As the caregiver and the character with the most subtly vulnerable edges, Henry’s Lillian is the most comforting presence in a house full of complex characters who quickly get under your skin. Henry brings something so raw and heartbreaking to the play’s third act, instantly making her one of the year’s strongest performers.
There’s also much to be said about how agonizingly frustrating Sinead Matthews’ Pam is throughout the show, resulting in what might’ve been the first time I wanted to leap onto the stage and push someone aside. And if that doesn’t equate to an excellent performance, then I’m not sure what does.
West End’s Mad House lives up to its title with intensely evocative performances and gut-wrenching screams that cut through and explore the bleak corridors of a person’s psyche. It dives into the importance of human language and the detail that how we speak to one another or the approaches we take matter significantly. It’s a harrowing look into mental health and the parallels between people who choose to be empathetic versus those who outright refuse to care. Where there’s compassion in a cruel world, there’s strength to move forward, but where there’s hatred and cruelty, the cycle never ends.
How the production then explores grief through quiet intervals and performances is where it’s most masterful. Through Harbour and Henry’s efforts especially, there’s plenty to excavate. And Pullman has never been more frustrating to watch, which says plenty about how incredible he is in the role. And without spoiling the ending or where the production goes, it’s a testament to human agency — what happens when someone is robbed of it, forcing them down dark paths and where there’s freedom in the agency granted. Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, Rebeck’s dark comedy is a production you won’t want to miss.
An official trigger warning for the production is as followed: Contains discussion of death, mental illness and self-harm, transphobic and racist language, sexual content and swearing.
West End’s Mad House will run at the Ambassadors Theatre until September 4.