Theatre 503 in association with Le Nez Productions Ltd.
It has taken six years for JT Rogers' award winning play to reach Europe, but are there reasons for such a long absence from the British stage and was the wait for Madagascar really worth it?
Madagascar revolves around three characters: Lilian (Sorcha Cusack), June (Miranda Foster) and Nathan (Barry Stanton). Nathan is having an affair with Lilian, who is also June's mother, but these characters are not important. The real protagonist here is the never seen but much talked about Gideon, or Paul as his sister and everyone else apart from his mother call him. As the audience are told by June that some people choose to disappear, she not only begins to establish the narrative, but gives away the entire premise of the plot in the opening moments of the play, and by the end of the first half the audience has discovered simply that: Paul is gone.
Told through direct address and monologue, the three characters narrate in different time periods as certain lines and motifs provide the crossroads for their stories to intertwine. Rogers' writing is clever, with allusions and metaphors resonating throughout the piece, resulting in a deep theatrical text with much to be uncovered and deduced.
To try and define Madagascar as a certain genre would be wrong. Initially it appears to be a detective play, trying to get to the bottom of Paul's disappearance and the subsequent search for a lost loved one, but on closer inspection the play is about so much more: the distance between loved ones, the search for identity, sacrifice, punishment, the aftermath of battling for affection, the consequences of love, greed and death. And so to the title - where does this fit in? Painted as the family's utopia, Madagascar is really its nemesis. Rogers' explores the danger of creating a utopia and how devastation will always reign in the search for it; utopia can never be as perfect as it is painted.
Rogers' never really ties up his narrative and although Madagascar begins with the search for Paul, this becomes less and less important as the play progresses. After searching for two years June gives up, concluding 'He has to be dead'. After having been lectured that those who do not want to be found choose to vanish, the audience can't help but think that Paul is still alive. Rogers' strengthens this when June receives a postcard, upon which her address and three words - 'I'm still alive' - are written. Did Paul send the card? And if so, why does the narrative take a morose tone in Paul's family committing suicide? Is it all a wicked plan devised by Paul in revenge for the affair and his treatment as a child? When Nathan is informed of June's suicide, he learns he is to inherit the family's estate and travels to her deathbed. In a revenge narrative this would be the perfect opportunity for Paul to reveal himself and inflict his pain and suffering on Nathan, the man who had an affair with his mother, but alas, this never occurs.
Madagascar's narrative is compelling and draws you in, but is also frustrating. What is it trying to say? Where does it want to go? What is important and what is not? It is a thriller where nothing thrilling happens, a detective case that is never solved.
The acting, however, is faultless. Cusack, Foster and Stanton perform their complex roles with great conviction, passion, emotion and intensity. This is exactly what is needed in such a piece as in many ways the play is about Lilian, June and Nathan's own journeys and the effects, rather than the cause, of an action.
As Nathan frequently says, 'You'll find this interesting'. He also debates the difference between a secret and a mystery and one can't help but think that JT Rogers wants his audience to do the same about his play: Is it secrets that ultimately tear the family apart, or is Paul's disappearance simply a mystery?
Playing until 5th June 2010
Reviewer: Simon Sladen