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Hysteria by Terry Johnson - Review

By Terry Johnson

Theatre Royal Bath

Half of the Richmond Theatre Marketing Department, myself included, made the journey west to the beautiful city of Bath, to watch Hysteria produced by Theatre Royal Bath Productions.

Hysteria is a play full of surprises. What strikes one first is the rich, well made quality of the set designed by Lez Brotherston. This initially transports the audience into the study and the immediate world of Sigmund Freud, a muscular performance by Anthony Sher. As the plot develops the character of Jessica, charismatically portrayed by Indira Varma, is introduced. At first she is an unknown quantity, her disturbed behaviour on entry proves to be subterfuge, as we slowly, painstakingly discover the true purpose of her visit.

Somewhat surprisingly, Salvador Dali is not exactly a principle character. He does however add a madcap exuberance and an infectious anarchy that becomes more prevalent as the play progresses. Dali contributes to the section of the play mid way through the first act, which descends into a classic farce, with mistaken identity, doors slamming and people appearing onstage without trousers on etc. Lesser actors could have made this section difficult, but in this production directed by Terry Johnson himself, it is a huge success. It garners the biggest laughs and creates an effective contrast to the following scene of urgent serious probing by Jessica. The scene also accentuates the three principle characters resemblance, especially in the first act, to the ego, super-ego and id of Freud’s structural model. Freud as the ego is attempting to maintain control over his life, Jessica as the super-ego is attempting to uncover information on one of Freud’s past cases and Dali is acting on impulse, a classic id. Johnson has layered some of Freud’s best known theories into the play; his seduction theory is openly examined in the dialogue, and others such as the structural model are folded into the fabric of the play itself.

In the second act, one becomes more aware of Dali’s function within the narrative. It is difficult to go into detail, without giving away the crucial parts of the plot, so I will refrain. However it is sufficient to say the play changes again beyond recognition. In the first act it delighted, then intrigued and in the second act it asks some serious questions. The worlds of the characters collide together in a crescendo, which then recedes, and leaves the audience holding the fragments of a reality both created and destroyed in front of their eyes.

Jack Wright

Hysteria is coming to Richmond Theatre from Monday 20 to Saturday 25 August. Click here for further information.