REVIEW: Hysteria @ Gala Theatre & Cinema

Posted on March 15th 2017 by Whats on Northeast

Words: Gemma Corking for Cuckoo Review

Sigmund Freud invited Salvador Dali over for tea in London in 1938 and as a gift, Dali brought ‘The Metamorphosis of Narcissus’ a painting symbolising all-consuming paranoia. This meeting is the premise of Hysteria by Terry Johnson. The play not only explores this encounter, but also one of Freud’s controversial theories and his remaining life before his death in 1939. Hysteria has won many coveted prizes, including the Olivier award. It’s a slapstick comedy with threads of psychoanalysis woven through and will have you laughing out loud as much as it will have you contemplating something deeper.

The stage is transformed into Freud’s London study – and an accurate depiction at that. Persian rugs line the floors and the chaise lounge, and his desk has various artefacts laid out just so – it’s an impressive effort and high praise should be given to the set designer for the attention to detail. After the audience has absorbed the famous study, the play begins with Freud (Ged McKenna) waking up in his chair. He’s clearly confused, thinking he’s with a patient but the chaise lounge remains empty. A knock at the patio window startles both Freud and the audience.

Jessica (Summer Strallen), is our mystery visitor and this is when things start to get interesting. An opponent against Freud’s controversial views on sexual abuse, Jessica is there to understand her own past in order to continue in the present. Strallen has the audience erupting in laughter and sitting in anguish in the same breath, none more so than when Freud is trying to hide Jessica from the gullible Dr Yahuda (Moray Treadwell) – Freud’s long suffering friend. We are then introduced to Dali (John Dorney) in his over the top nature, adding to the caricature of Dali’s eccentricities with literal trouser dropping comedy to ramp up the hilarity factor. The audience eats it up, even more so when Dali discovers the naked woman in Freud’s bathroom and ends up wearing the toilet seat around his neck – it couldn’t be more farcical.

That being said, I preferred the first half of Hysteria – it is much more succinct, both comically and in the pace of the narrative. By comparison, the second half reflects upon Freud’s psyche in his final days – particularly his assisted suicide by a lethal dose of morphine. While this accounts for the disjointed nature of the second half, it doesn’t explain the need for comedy being forced through the veil of darkness. The comedy is more of a distraction against the tenebrous subject in the second act, rather than a natural progression. The jokes don’t fall flat – laughter chorused around the theatre – they just didn’t need to be there.

Freud was not without his critics, and the cast of Hysteria challenge preconceptions of mental health while also unapologetically portraying the flaws in Freud’s theories from those closest to them. If you are interested in the human psyche and enjoy a guffaw at slapstick comedy, you’ll revel in Hysteria.

This review originally appeared on Cuckoo Review, a site dedicating to developing the skills of young writers in partnership with venues across the North East. For more reviews from young writers, visit the Cuckoo Review website.

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