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REVIEW: Rose Napoli writes the world of Mad Madge with a glittery, fun-filled gel pen

iPhoto caption: Photo by Dahlia Katz.
/By / Apr 18, 2024

When you watch Rose Napoli’s new play Mad Madge, produced by Nightwood Theatre in association with VideoCabaret, you might find yourself recalling other larger-than-life rom-coms.

Easy A might come to mind, the rasp of Emma Stone’s voice and her character’s struggles against haughty frenemies. Ten Things I Hate About You, too, could crop up as a reference point (or any number of mid-2000s bangers starring Amanda Bynes — most of them echo the themes of Napoli’s audacious biography of 17th-century philosopher and poet Margaret Cavendish). Frequent Toronto theatregoers might also find themselves thinking of Kat Sandler’s WILDWOMAN, another recent play in which Napoli starred as a powerful woman with a story mostly lost to history.

Yes, Mad Madge’s influences sing through the text. But with her trademark wit and relentlessly goofy sense of humour, Napoli’s also created a totally original work of historical exploration, re-sculpting the story of Cavendish with jokes about pooping and sex toys to spare. This is a 17th-century fable with 21st-century zing — never does the language succumb to antiquated syntax or out-of-reach cultural references. Napoli writes the world of the socially uncouth Madge and her conquests with a bright pink, glittery gel pen, filling in any details lost to time with a wild and raunchy imagination. The end result, brought to life with gusto by director Andrea Donaldson, is a great time at the theatre, with impressive performances and lovely design to boot.

The short version: real-life literary giant Margaret Cavendish wants to be famous. She wants to be remembered for centuries to come, and she’ll do what it takes to make that happen. Forget love — she has more important things to worry about, like befriending the queen and ensuring her legacy is secure for future generations.

Of course, it’s not that simple. The queen, played by a funny and well-cast Nancy Palk, is kind of a nightmare — her whims are difficult to track from one moment to the next, and her demands, often toilet-related, are kind of gross. As well, there’s a man — William, played by the ever-endearing Karl Ang — and he might be a barrier to the solo notoriety Margaret so desperately craves.

Rounding out Margaret’s world are a series of double-cast members of the queen’s court, as well as members of Margaret’s family out in the English countryside, played by the lovely trio of Wayne Burns, Izad Etemati, and Farhad Ghajar.

The audience accesses Margaret’s turbulent rise to stardom through an in-the-round configuration, situated on the edges of a small checkered platform (Astrid Janson, Abby Esteireiro, and Merle Harley are credited with the show’s set, costume, and prop design). The costumes are a focal point of the play, created with care out of luxe taffeta and gauzy tulle. While the lexicon of Margaret’s world might be oh-so-Gen-Z, the design of it is much more grounded in the 17th century, with corsets and floral stomachers to spare.

Overall, Mad Madge is a hoot, a compelling story rendered accessible and charming by Napoli’s text and Donaldson’s realization of it. It’s a touch unfortunate that Mad Madge’s production so immediately follows Soulpepper’s production of WILDWOMAN last year — in a lot of ways, Sandler and Napoli paint their heroines and chosen slices of patriarchy with similar strokes — but two potty-mouthed hours with this cast flits by quickly, with jokes at every turn. During the curtain call, Donaldson and her team have elected to play Chappell Roan’s “Pink Pony Club” — an astute, hot pink, unabashedly sexy choice for Madge and her trail of redemptive chaos.

Mad Madge runs at The Theatre Centre until April 21. Tickets are available here.

Intermission reviews are independent and unrelated to Intermission’s partnered content. Learn more about Intermission’s partnership model here.

Aisling Murphy

Aisling Murphy

Aisling is Intermission's senior editor and an award-winning arts journalist with bylines including the Toronto Star, NEXT Magazine, CTV News Toronto, and Maclean's. She likes British playwright Sarah Kane, most songs by Taylor Swift, and her cats, Fig and June.



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