@ Summerhall, Edinburgh, until Wed 10 Jun 2015 (and touring)

A nascent production, Nicola McCartney’s Crazy Jane, presented by Birds of Paradise Theatre Company, sees the lead undergo a medically-induced metamorphosis, from chronic hysteria to revered dancing star.

Set in late 19th century France – post Napoleon III – where debauchery, excessive class disparity, and the after effects of the Franco-Prussian War were at the forefront of society, this play excellently finds the balance somewhere between Dumas‘s antiquated description of Parisian lifestyle, and Sebastian Faulks’ contemporary novel Human Traces, where medical ingenuities are the predominant theme.

The eponymous Jane – a postpubescent, exiled from home by her barbaric mother – is captured from the precipice of suicide, and admitted to an insane asylum. Diagnosed with a rare hysterical disorder, where her limbs are perpetually akimbo, flagellating the air around her like someone using all parts of the body to try and swat a fly, Jane meets a young, ambitious doctor, who through hypnotism and avuncular encouragement, helps her to use this disorder to her advantage; overseeing her change from society’s laughing stock, to the headline act of Moulin Rouge. After a fleeting romance with a doctor’s assistant, her realisation that greatness is synonymous with madness, and that her identity has become her illness, Jane decides on a re-enactment of her ‘dance with death’, where yet again she is surreptitiously saved by the ambitious doctor, eventually coming round and accepting her place in the world.

At times, the pathos is beautiful, the dancing pragmatic, and the writing omniscient – further augmented by some very convincing performances throughout.  However, the multi-casting at times doesn’t work, because certain members of the production struggle with character diversity, and the plausibility of the scenes involving maltreatment are very unconvincing, because those involved fail to fully commit physically, thereby not achieving the desired effect.

Although the performance is a tad long, and the acting occasionally a bit underwhelming, the script is tautly constructed, littered with concise dialogue, a refined knowledge of varying French lifestyles during this period, and a narrative with enough potential to maintain a mixture of stupefaction and hilarity; this full-length play, with original scores by Hector Bizerk, is a dancing, twisting, hypnotic experience, only fractionally let down by a slightly slow start, and a cast of varying ability.