London Classic Theatre are regular visitors to Oldham`s Coliseum Theatre, and I have found, over the years, that their productions are usually of a very high standard. Their latest offering now on national tour, is British playwright Terry Johnson`s Hysteria. I am going to be honest, but I really have no idea how to review this play. Allow me to enlighten you…
First of all the title of the play, Hysteria, in our modern English, means uncontrollable laughter; and with this being billed as an hilarious farce, this was indeed what was expected. The premise of this farce being a fictionalised account of a real-life meeting in Freud`s London study between Freud himself and Salvador Dali. Even knowing that much, then the comic potential of this play is enormous. However, we find thatthe “hysteria” of the title refers very cleverly to its more original and medical meaning;
its Freudian meaning, and that in fact the presence of Salvador Dali is merely a red- herring and irrelevant to the actual plot – the actual plot being not in the least funny at all.
I was therefore left completely at a loss as to what I was watching and how I should react to it. I was not the only one in the audience feeling this way either.
My second concern comes with the directing. Directed by Michael Cabot, the play was treated as a farce, despite it never actually reaching that level. It would have been much better to have treated the whole thing as a serious drama, since the play actually relives and revisits a real case study; that of a certain Rebecca in 1898. And as her daughter now comes to confront Freud with his own psychoanalysis and his own theory of presexual shock, Freud is in the last year of his life, suffering from cancer of the jaw, in pain and preparing for his own death; whilst news of the persecution of Jews, Kristallnacht, and the war form a backdrop to the play, the details of this case such as a five year old girl being raped by her father etc, come spilling out throughout the play, becoming darker and more serious all the while.
Perhaps Dali was there just to simply remind the audience that this was a comedy??
The writing was too clever – or at least tried to be too clever; and the directing was confusing at best. There is a very compelling drama in there somewhere. My advice, for what it is worth, would be for Johnson to completely rewrite the play as a serious one-act two-hander, omitting both doctor and Dali. Then you have a play!
Ged Mckenna struggled with the role of Freud. Like me, I think he was unsure of which genre this play was supposed to be. He is a very natural actor and his mannerisms, accent, and gait all were perfectly measured. It should have been very real, but when reduced to doing over-the- top mime gestures for Jessica to say “Russian” for example, the characterisation fell apart. Summer Strallen`s Jessica, however, didn`t have such a problem. Her role never descended into farce, and she was even more than careful when required to do comedy, she kept it to a very bare minimum, centering herself completely in this rather difficult role. Sadly, she was a little too quiet vocally at times, but otherwise, it was a very real and extremely well- measured performance. John Dorney`s Dali however was the polar opposite. Playing this role very much for laughs, his physicality, sexual perversity, and everything about him was grotesque and OTT. Even his accent travelled Europe; sometimes Spanish, sometimes Italian, sometimes Greek! He was a misfit – a monodimensional caricature in a play which called for realism. Moray Treadwell made up the foursome as Dr.Yahuda.
My verdict: two interesting ideas ( the meeting with Dali [comedy] and the confrontation with Jessica [tragic] ) – both clever – but the two simply didn`t mix.