To the National this evening with Matt to see Tom Stoppard's Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. I read the play at University and remember being confused, unable to visualise the staging, the precision of which felt absolute, or understand where a director might start.
Two men share a cell in a psychiatric hospital. One, Ivanov, believes he owns an orchestra; the other, Alexander, is a political prisoner pronounced insane because of his dissident opposition to the Soviet regime - a discordant note in a highly orchestrated society. He is begged constantly by, Sascha, his son, to recant and tell the lie that will enable the authorities to declare him sane and release him.
Ivanov's orchestra are visible throughout demonstrating the profundity of his delusion by filling up the vast, revolving, Olivier stage. They serve to underscore, parody and illuminate both the action and power relationships between the patients, the doctor, memory and the colonel.
There is something deeply beautiful in Toby Jones' fragile performance as Ivanov. It's part resignation, part suffering, as he treads the corridor of a right angled stone path, across the stage, unsure whether he can stray, trying to conduct, trying to reconnect.
Music as a metaphor for mental health is a persuasive one and in this production the orchestra stands touchingly both for the functioning society and the complex mind. The work is peppered with jokes, reinforcing the illogical, the ludicrous and the farcical notion of sanity. The line between reality and the absurd is thin. At what point to we declare the unorthodox insane? When does individualism become destructive?
The final moment is gorgeous. As Sascha reassures his hunger striking father that 'Everything can be alright!' the back wall of the theatre opens up to reveal a series of mirrors that create an infinite perspective for the stone path. It's long, it twists, it's complicated, but the journey is possible. Not will be ... can be.