21 June 2022
4.0 out of 5.0 stars
I don’t think I was quite prepared for how intense Mad House would be.
This new play by Theresa Rebeck revolves around a family in rural Pennsylvania, centring around the oldest son Michael, who is looking after his dying father. His younger siblings, Ned and Pam, leave him to tend to the crotchety old man for months on end, only showing up when their father receives at home hospice care and it is clear he will not last much longer.
Before they show up though, we see Daniel, the father, constantly verbally abuse Michael, and pretty much everyone else who is brought up in conversation. He seems the stereotype of “old white man” who even spouts very inappropriate comments at the hospice nurse when she shows up, while Michael dutifully apologises and tries to keep calm despite everything. While uncomfortable, it is a very interesting dynamic and not an unfamiliar family dynamic to me.
As things so often do in tense family situations, they spiral out of control. Ned and Pam seem just interested in finding out how much money they can get from their father’s death, Michael is haunted by his past and the death of their mother, Daniel goes from deliberately making everyone miserable to calling them out for their behaviour.
Despite all this, the show is surprisingly funny with moments of profundity strewn throughout. While it isn’t always easy viewing, Mad House is very well presented, tackling the chaos of family ties and emotions running high. With hilarious as well as devastating moments, it’s a roller coaster of feelings and absolutely worth a trip to the West End.