The Coward: a Madcap Fairytale is produced by The National Theatre of MatMadia and presented as part of The New York International Fringe Festival. It’s created by Maddy Campbell and Matt Phillips. Its subtitle – A Madcap Fairytale – describes it aptly, but it’s also a sort of clown show. We’re presented with a king and queen, a maid who murders the king and a servant dispatched after the maid. There’s lots of blood and vulgarity.
But it’s more complicated than that. Willie, the maid, played by Maddy Campbell, is part monster. It’s a second personality, dissociated from the personality of the maid. Ms. Campbell bounces between the two persona with violent twists of her neck.
It’s all presented in an eccentric and frenetic style. The make-up is elaborate and interesting, a sort of enhanced white-face. And the actors are skilled physically.
This is an interesting concept. The Coward might be successful theater if it were better executed. Unfortunately, the cast disappoints. They deliver their lines with great energy, but without great care. They punch lines and they rush them. They garble lines spasmodically. And it’s all directed without rhythm.
The press material tells us that The Coward is about mental health. This is easy to accept. Being possessed by a monster is a good metaphor for mental illness. But the show is so annoying that we don’t care what the point is. We’re right to be wary of theater that explains itself in its promotion.
But then there’s never a guarantee with theater, and that’s particularly true of the festivals like Fringe NYC, which presents some first-rate theater.