Act 1
An ageing attendant in a present-day Russian railway museum, Vassily, left to lock up, begins to hallucinate a version of what happened in the railway carriage behind him in 1880 when the famous writer Turgenev had an assignation with the actress Savina.

He has Gogolesque conversations with the female director before she leaves and with an apparition of the snappy young tech services manager Boris.

The museum is threatened with closure by the Mayor (with whom the director is having a dalliance).

Vassily then hallucinates a meeting with Turgenev himself and his raisonneur friend Polonsky. They argue about whether Turgenev, risking the love he has (for the opera diva Viardot) for an infatuation, should go to meet Savina in the train.

Act 2
We see enacted the scene from Turgenev’s sober classic A Month in the Country during which he became besotted with Savina, playing Vera; and a scene from Turgenev’s early farce The Provincial Lady, which Savina played in with him.

And in between Polonsky and Turgenev argue about the price to be paid for ‘love’, the nature of infatuation, and the disaster that threatens if Turgenev joins Savina in the train.

Vassily imagines a second version of what happened in the train.

Turgenev throws caution to the wind and leaves for the train.

Act 3
The Mayor comes to the museum to see about closing it down.

The dance of relationships in the present (Mayor/director/mayoress) mirrors the dance of relationships from the past (Turgenev/Savina/Viardot).

Vassily misinterprets the present carryings-on for his master’s in 1880.

There is a third rendez-vous in the carriage – actually between the mayor and the director – which Vassily takes to be the truth about what happened in the carriage.

The museum is closed down.

Vassily is carted off to an asylum.

A Mad Affair has been translated into Russian by the Moscow translator Victoria Ivanova with the collaboration of the author. The text of the play, provisionally entitled Безумная любовь, is available through Tatyana Korobkina at the Turgenev Library, Dept of Culture of the City of Moscow ( or directly from the translator (

  • surrealist, swinging, like turgenev's own drama, between naturalist (a month in the country) and farce (a provincial lady), between present-day reality and a madman's hallucinations.
  • 100
  • 6 total
  • 2 female identifying, 4 male identifying
  • culturally and linguistically diverse
  • 18+
  • adult
  • Australian Script Centre


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Male | 50s | under 3 minutes
Starts on page 12

EXTRACT: Love has so many faces, doesn't it. But it doesn't always show us the face we'd seen in our dreams. Make no mistake: he loved Madame Viardot with all his heart, Turgenev did, oh yes, from the moment he first set eyes on her he loved her. And I think that in her own way Madame Viardot perhaps loved him. In her own way. Not a warm woman, Madame Viardot, but still, I think she did. Needless to say, Boris doesn't even believe in love.



Note from the Three River Theatre production director of 'A Mad Affair' by Robert Dessaix.



Audit from ABC Drive program, interviewing Robert Dessaix. Damien Brown was interested to hear how a great writer, and now playwright, reacts to hearing his words presented on stage.

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