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Review: The Madhouse, Fancy Dress & Party Shop, Network Theatre - eccentric and odd mystery

There is a slight whiff of beneath-railway-arches damp at the Network Theatre, which feels appropriate for The Madhouse, Fancy Dress & Party Shop play. The shop of the title, as we quickly find out, has a damp problem in its basement, the odour of which has reached the retail area.

Madhouse fancy dress party shop flyer

But this turns out to be the least of Gloria's (Eliza McClelland) worries. The owner of the shop, Gloria, is an ex-actress and newly separated from her husband.

She quickly reveals a personality that bubbles with eccentricity. Talking directly to the audience, she reveals random facts about herself, such as her dislike of dipping bread soldiers in a boiled egg. She also has a favourite doll with which she talks and plays.

There are certain things that are incongruous which create a slightly unnerving feel to the play. Gloria's demeanour is mostly cheerful and maybe a bit scatty, and yet there is something odd about the way she plays with her doll and talks about smashing eggs when she was a child.

Her chatter reveals one side of her, her behaviour and occasional outbursts reveal another.

Missing mystery

When her son rings to say he can't get hold of his father, she dismisses the absence as a bender. It sets the play up as a mystery. Except it is pretty obvious from early on what has happened, so there is no shocking reveal.

What is a mystery is the nature of Gloria's relationships, what has shaped her behaviour and drives her, but there are few clues. The irony is that in Gloria's chatter, she reveals much but little that feels relevant to the central plot.

Without a better understanding of Gloria and her background, it makes her soapbox moment about feminist issues feel random and out of place.

Eliza McClelland puts in an energic and lively performance, and there is clever use of shop dummies that stand in for customers visiting the shop, but the play feels full of oddities that are head-scratching rather than quirky.

The Madhouse, Fancy Dress & Party Shop is on at the Network Theatre until 4 September, and you can find more details and buy tickets here on the official website.

It's 60 minutes long without an interval, and I'm giving it 3 stars.