Illustrations of Madness

Illustrations of Madness

A new chamber musical

Book, Music, and Lyrics by Simon Arrowsmith

Based on true events. 

A corupt government, fake news, and precarious mental health. 

In 1810 a book called Illustrations of Madness was published, later considered the first documented account of a case of paranoid schizophrenia. Written about a man called James Tilly Matthews, it’s a work that raises more questions than answers about its subject and his incarceration in Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam).

The publication is considered my many to be a distorted depiction of Matthews’s illness and incarceration. The author of the work, John Haslam, had an agenda in publishing its content. But there are also several mysteries surrounding the case. Why was Matthews in France during the 1789 revolution? What was his involvement with the British government? And was there really, as Matthews believed, a machine that was operated by dark forces to influence global affairs? Was he a spy, a political prisoner, or just a victim of circumstance?

Whatever the truth, Matthews was a fantastic storyteller. The trick is deciding which of his stories is real.

This chamber piece explores the mystery through the lens of Matthews’s relationship with his wife. What was her part in the story? How did the pair cope with the consequencies of mental illness, in a time when so little was understood about it. And was ‘madness’ really to blame?

A one-act chamber musical for actor-musicians.