In silent fear and trepidation, three new inmates are checked into the notorious Bethlem hospital. Each has been sent here for a different reason. For Jonathan, the label is sexual perversion. For Matthew – melancholia, Nellie – hysteria. Stripped of their clothes and their humanity, they are completely at the mercy of the evil Doctor Monroe and his cold-hearted nurse.
Jonathan is quietly bemused, not understanding why he is there; he just never had any interest in girls. Nellie would just never stop talking. Matthew – perhaps the only one with real problems – plays chess with his imaginary wife.
But they all are here now, and they must be treated. They must be cured. There follows a sequence of truly harrowing scenes as various therapeutic tortures are forced upon the hapless patients, which take away what little dignity they have remaining.
Bedlam does not seem to be anchored to a particular time in the long history of mental institutions; rather, it looks at both the unchanging and the novel horrors inflicted down the ages on those put away merely for being inconveniently different.
There are three very strong central performances which arouse strong feelings of pity and fear in the audience, but explicit demonstrations of the well-known horrors of these institutions – however well done – do not by themselves constitute a drama. The piece ends with a rather rushed, if poetic, final speech of defiance and survival, but the narrative never reaches a satisfying conclusion.
August 8-10, 12-18 at 16:30