Hysteria

Hysteria
By Terry Johnson. Darlinghurst Theatre Company. Eternity Playhouse. March 31 – April 30, 2017

All farces need a good grounding in truth.  A meeting one rainy night in London between the dying great psychoanalyst Freud and the volatile surrealist Dali seems the perfect start.

Designer Anna Gardiner even creates a suitably washed out Hampstead consulting room for Freud with a clutter of busy doors already at surrealist angles.

Other visitors that night bring the play’s darker themes.  A disturbed young woman bangs on the window, driven to expose why Freud retreated from his earlier theories about infantile memories of paternal rape. A fourth character, Freud’s visiting Jewish English physician, carries another theme of Nazi atrocities.  It’s 1938, but both these horrors of seemingly inexplicable human behaviour speak clearly to our time.

But then Terry Johnson disarmingly switches his play to vaudeville and, presumably through Freud’s drug-addled sleeplessness, turns this troubled world into farce.  Raine Paul’s black and white projections adds yet more other worldly experience. Director Susanna Dowling mostly handles all these quick and challenging turns very artfully – and she has a great cast. 

Wendy Strehlow is perfectly measured as the male physician, her gender-blind casting adding a further frisson of surrealism.  Jo Turner although too young for the role still has gravitas as Freud while Michael McStay’s Dali overflows with his boyish vanities.  

Comic timing is sharp and just when all is threatened by silliness, Miranda Daughtry’s obsessive Jessica resumes to nail Freud for his past compromises.

The ambitious meshing of Johnson’s admirable wit, and the physical comedy, with the play’s intellectual clout and thriller-like revelations is not a perfect weave, but its very engaging to watch.

Martin Portus

Photographer: Robert Catto.

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