Echoes of SA in Russian Gogol’s play

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to jeroen Going slightly mad: Jeroen Kranenberg in Diary of a Madman.

Dear Diary: today I saw my dogs exchange love letters.

That may not be the start to a typical diary entry you would expect to stumble upon when perusing anyone’s private thoughts.

But then again, Aksenty Poprishchin isn’t just anyone. This lead character in Nikolai Gogol’s Diary of a Madman fits the description in the play’s title to a T.

The play is brought to you by Devilspeak Theatre Company and the man who loses his marbles in this play is brought to life by Jeroen Kranenberg at the new 6 Spin Street Restaurant from today.

A civil worker at the height of the Russian revolution, “the madman goes crazy because of the bureaucratic society that’s similar to our country’s old society. There’s psychosis and delusions of grandeur and this is one of the first studies into that,” says Kranenberg.

“For this character, there is no gradual dose of madness and he mirrors Gogol in that the writer, too, worked for the government at some point. The way Gogol can say the most outrageous things and come up with the most fantastic, weird ideas is similar to how Poprishchin is. I mean, he thinks that dogs are capable of writing letters to each other.”

Although Kranenberg laughs that he is “far too lazy to keep a journal or diary”, he must have written a few letters to loved ones while living in Holland for 20 years. It was during this time that he also staged Diary of a Madman in Amsterdam.

“What’s changed since then is that I am more mature now, even though I’d like to think that I became more of a kid now that I was back then,” he laughs. “But now I see a different perspective and know more of the story.”

Diary of a Madman is a part of six theatrical portraits that Kranenberg stages, all of which show that Russia is a subject he is most interested in.

“Growing up in 1970s South Africa,” he says, “Russia was far removed from my field of interest. Stalin was no different from our fascist old government, anyway. But in the 1980s, when I grew up, I began to have conversations about Tolstoy and big Russian writers, and while I lived in the Netherlands I also worked with a chamber choir in St Petersburg.” .

Those are the reasons Russia is so close to Kranenberg’s work.

For a dose of “street theatre mixed with bits of Victorian over-the-top acting, cabaret and wonderful surreal things”, be sure to catch Kranenberg in action.

• Catch Diary of a Mad Man at 6 Spin Street Tues to Sat until February 2. R240 with a meal.


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