Erifila (Kathryn Beaumont) and Floriano (William Belchambers) find love in the madness of Valencia's asylum
It's the nuttier aspects of love that drive Spanish playwright, Lope De Vega's tangled tale, Madness in Valencia. A contemporary of Shakespeare, De Vega's life was pretty dramatic; it's surprising he had time to write the 1,800-odd plays in between the womanising, Armada fighting and being a lascivious priest. David Johnston's free translation gives a nice nod to De Vega's life as one of the crazy characters adopts aspects of his biography.
On the road to Valencia, we meet Floriano (William Belchambers), fleeing from a lethal brawl with a prince. His mate suggests he hides from the law in Valencia's famous madhouse. Erifila (Kathryn Beaumont) is also on the run; when she's robbed by her servant lover, her somewhat dubious means of self-preservation also include the asylum. When the prison governor's straightlaced niece and her maid (two sassy performances by Alicia Grace Turrell and Elizabeth Webster) also go loopy over Floriano, this play tips over into the knotty 16th-century farce that only "fortune" (or huge theatrical coincidence) can unravel.
As Erifila, Beaumont is a superbly thorny English rose, as ready to fall in love as to fight for it. Belchambers (Floriano) benfits from an on-trend David Tennant look; the same kind of hugely watchable, doe-eyed skinny lad with a compelling way with a script that makes you think he's just plucked his lines from the air.
Much of the comedy in Simon Evans' energetic, if slightly raggedy, production comes from the sudden freedoms afforded by the madhouse's cages. Inside the asylum, murderers are free to fall in love; the insane speak with alarming clarity; Pisano, the Doctor of Physik (a Blackadderish Laurence Fuller) is clearly nuts; and frigid women free up their lust.
After real madness, and love-as-madness, this confident troupe then takes the play in a third direction, looking at the madness of theatre. Unhappy with her ending, Laida the servant calls back the characters, and demands a rewrite. It's a lovely moment of modern metadrama, giving a lesser known classic a sweet, subversive twist. If only someone could do the same for Valentine's Day.
Madness in Valencia runs at the Trafalgar Studios 2 until 6 March. Tickets from £22.50. Call 0844 871 7632 to book, or visit www.madnessinvalencia.com.