Diary of a Madman
An inventive yet flawed updating of Nikolai Gogol's classic short story
This article is from 2016.
Pop Sheeran, a South Queensferry native, is a likeable, dedicated worker whose family has been responsible for repainting the Forth Rail Bridge for generations. When a visiting student from an English university shows up with a new and highly durable brand of paint, Pop begins questioning his value as a worker, his heritage and ultimately his own sanity.
The script's fascination with the detail of life in South Queensferry paints a picture of the community's history, before following Pop's descent into insanity. Driven by a series of short, energetic scenes and musical interludes, the interactions between the various members of the Sheeran clan provide the funniest moments and a gentle introduction to Pop's gradual deterioration.
Liam Brennan's performance as Pop is impressively nuanced, capturing his doubt and, memorably, a final outburst of physical anger. Yet the attempt to present Pop as a symbol of Scotland's loss of identity unfortunately falls flat. Having worked hard to bring the local history of South Queensferry to life, the sudden jump to the wider questions feels awkward and forced.
However, the strong cast and the attention to geographical detail bring out the script's tragedy of a man finding himself undermined by modern technology. Perhaps over-ambitious in its scope, it is nevertheless an intriguing transfer of a Russian classic into a recognisable Scottish milieu.
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