It’s a madhouse at the Globe – but Nell Leyshon’s diffuse new play (the first written by a female playwright to be produced at this theatre) doesn’t get to the heart of either the fictional institution or the inmates in a sprawling meander which provides information but doesn’t have much of a soul.

Leyshon has done her homework, and it shows, but despite the detail, she fails to engender much sense of compassion for the suffering of the inmates – a motley (but far from over-crowded) bunch of the mentally incapacitated who find themselves subjected to a crude “one size fits all” treatment regime involving bleeding by leeches, shaved hair, cold baths and blood-letting.

A posturing poet pays his penny along with London’s curious to view the incarcerated unfortunates and becomes infatuated with a beautiful farm girl who lost her mind when she lost her lover.

The man in charge, Dr Carew, encourages the voyeuristic visitors to prod as well as gawp, and has a fondness for gin – as well as for the buxom wench (Ella Smith) who sells it. And his refined wife finds a like-minded ally in the newly appointed Governor with his zest for reform and understanding.

But despite the period songs, the bawdy comedy and hints of authenticity, it’s too loosely plotted to engage. Ultimately it’s little more than a superficial romp – well suited to the open air stage, but a disappointing disservice to those who spent their lives locked up in an 18th century asylum. 


Shakespeare’s Globe, Bankside, SE1 9DT
020 7401 9919
Tube: London Bridge tube
Until 1st October
£5.00 – £35.00

Review: Louise Kingsley