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This show made me want to go and read, a lot, which is maybe why I’ve delayed writing up this review. Alongside Emily Dickenson’s poems, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein I yearned to pick up another book that had always caught my interest but never quite got around to picking it up. Lisa Appignanesi’s Mad, Bad and Sad was published in 2008 looks  biographically at individual women’s and so explores mental illness not through their diagnoses but through a complete survey of the individuals and the societies that surround them.

Both Barefaced Theatre’s play and Mad, Bad and Sad pose awkward questions; Why do women seem to be more prone to mental illness than men? Is this caused by something innate? Or by ‘female’ life events like childbirth and menopause? Or because of the way we have viewed and treated women for centuries? Whilst Mad Women in the Attic focuses on historical periods these questions should still concern us today. Appignanesi  quotes a 2004 study in which girls’ suicide attempts in the UK outnumber boys’ by nine to one. We may have moved beyond 19th-century practice of observing and cataloguing ‘female hysteria’, but we have not lessened the incidence of mental illness in women.

Taking these four writers in context enabled the company to explore the women behind the writing and how their mental states influenced their work and in turn how their writing was so integral to their personalities. The attempts by those around them to constrain and confine these women were created in such away as not to vilify the individuals but demonstrate wider societal views of women and madness. Charlotte Perkins husband’s attempts to get her subscribe to the doctor’s rest cure and stop writing seemed misguided rather than fuelled by patriarchal fervour.

The act of being confined to the attic by the world around leads all of our women to an increased creativity and production of writing that has been absorbed by countless readers over the generations. In our dreams the attic is said to symbolise the higher self, in contact with the most ethereal and least grounded parts of our nature.

Getting into the minds of these four women and what inspired their writing might seem like a daunting task for one play with a cast of six. And it indeed it proved to be, an experience much like a tapas meal of interesting morsels, each one picked up and over before we could get to any real emotions or passions. That the company wrote, produced, directed and performed this work should indeed be praised, it was a treat to see something new on the stage and I’m intrigued to see what they do next. With this piece I was left wanting so much more which explains my desire to go and read.

Mad Women in Attics, New Wimbledon Studion, 9th to 12th March 2011

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