Diary of a Ukrainian Madman by Liudmyla Tymoshenko at Finborough Theatre

30 June 2024

Liudmyla Tymoshenko’s Diary of a Ukrainian Madman will premiere at the Finborough Theatre in London, UK, from 13 August to 31 August 2024. Tymoshenko’s latest work, a modern comedy inspired by Mykola Hohol’s Diary of a Madman, emerges as a profound and surreal reinterpretation set against the backdrop of contemporary Ukraine. This production breathes new life into Hohol’s narrative, blending the old with the new in a way that is both poignant and darkly humorous. Tymoshenko, a celebrated Ukrainian playwright and artist, weaves a tapestry that reflects the turbulence of a nation grappling with the twin crises of Covid-19 and war.

The protagonist, Vasyl Petrovych, is a lonely and eccentric pharmacist who finds himself ensnared in the monotony and drudgery of long hours and relentless night shifts. The pharmacy, a grim and dingy place that feels more like his prison than his workplace, becomes a microcosm of Vasyl’s troubled mind. Here, he is besieged by his tyrannical boss Serhiy, the boss’s domineering wife Valentina, and the insufferable junior colleague Stepan. This trio of tormentors exacerbates Vasyl’s sense of isolation and disillusionment, pushing him further into his rich and elaborate fantasy life.

In the fantastical realms of his imagination, Vasyl is no longer a beleaguered pharmacist but a visionary on the brink of groundbreaking discoveries. These flights of fancy provide a stark contrast to his grim reality, offering a glimpse into the depths of his troubled psyche. However, his tenuous grasp on sanity is threatened by the arrival of Stefania, his boss’s beautiful daughter. Her presence ignites a passion in Vasyl that blurs the boundaries between his fantasies and reality, leading to a series of events that challenge the limits of his mental resilience.

Tymoshenko’s setting is a masterstroke, combining elements of a modern pharmacy with the mystical aura of an alchemist’s laboratory and the chaotic energy of a madhouse. This fusion creates a visual and atmospheric spectacle that enhances the play’s surreal quality. The set becomes a character in its own right, reflecting Vasyl’s inner turmoil and the erratic nature of his thoughts.

The cast of characters, described as “Hoholian grotesques”, drift through time and space, embodying the absurdity and unpredictability of Vasyl’s world. These figures, with their exaggerated traits and eccentric behaviours, add layers of dark comedy and fantastical humour to the narrative. They serve as both tormentors and reflections of Vasyl's fractured mind, emphasizing the thin line between sanity and madness.

Tymoshenko’s reworking of Diary of a Madman is not just a retelling but a reimagining that speaks to the contemporary struggles of Ukraine. It addresses the psychological impact of prolonged crises, exploring themes of isolation, delusion, and the desperate need for escapism. The play’s humour, while dark, provides a cathartic release, allowing the audience to navigate the heavy themes with a sense of levity.

Liudmyla Tymoshenko is a multifaceted artist and educator based in Kyiv, known for her work as a playwright, screenwriter, and university lecturer. A co-founder of the Playwrights’ Theatre of Kyiv, her notable productions include Once Upon a Time in Morske, Five Songs of Polissya, Uncle Misha Passes by, and Refugee Cats. Her work has been showcased in various prestigious theatres and festivals across Ukraine and internationally, earning her numerous awards and nominations. Notably, Five Songs of Polissya won the Grand Prix in the July Honey competition and the Drama on the Move competition. Her play Diary of a Ukrainian Madman was shortlisted for the Polish ‘Aurora’ and the Ukrainian ‘UA’ Drama Competitions in 2023. Despite the cancellation of her premieres in Kyiv and Lviv due to the war in early 2022, Tymoshenko’s contributions to contemporary Ukrainian theatre remain impactful and celebrated.

John Farndon returns to the Finborough Theatre, where he previously translated Neda Nejdana’s Pussycat in Memory of Darkness and Inna Goncharova’s The Trumpeter. Farndon is a prolific writer, poet, playwright, songwriter, and translator, specializing in literature from Eurasia. His translations for the Worldwide Ukrainian Play Readings series include Polina Pologonceva’s Save the Light and Andriy Bondarenko’s Fox Dark as Light Night. His own plays, such as Anya (Donmar Warehouse) and High Risk Zone (Almeida Theatre), have been widely performed. Farndon co-won the 2019 EBRD Literature Prize for translating Hamid Ismailov’s The Devil’s Dance and was a finalist for the 2020 US PEN Translation Award for Rollan Seysenbaev’s The Dead Wander in the Desert. As a judge for the OffWestEnd Theatre Awards and author of over a thousand books on science and nature, Farndon has been shortlisted five times for the Young People’s Science Book Prize.