HYSTERIALondon Classic Theatre at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Missed this at the start of its run back in February – now just managed to catch it on the last day of this national tour up the road in Colchester.
The imposing set is a warmly wooden study just off the Finchley Road. The action begins shortly before the Second World War. Sigmund Freud, refugee from Austria, is asleep in an armchair. He is close to death. Kindly Doctor Yahuda [Moray Treadwell] will ease his passing, warning of possible hallucinatory side-effects. Freud seems to regret some of his earlier pronouncements on hysteria, and an evening spent watching Rookery Nook. Salvador Dali – and this much is true – visits, and notes the doctor's bicycle, with hot-water-bottle and snail attached.
From these strange elements, Terry Johnson makes a crazy farce and a serious play about the perils of psychoanalysis; in Michael Cabot's impressive production, surrealism and feminism battle it out as scanties are shed and trousers dropped. It's a brilliant combination, demanding much of its audience and of its actors.
At the Mercury matinée, I felt the actors did better than the audience, though the farce and the quips were well received. John Dorney's Dali was superb – physically expressive, throwing his head back to make his resemblance to the artist even more striking. Ged McKenna made a thoughtful Freud, with a gentle Austrian accent. Language something of a problem, perhaps. Yahuda, a fellow Jew [berating Sigmund for doubting Moses' ethnic credentials] was historically widely travelled, but here has no accent. Nor has the mysterious Jessica, who comes in from Freud's rainy garden, claiming to be his “anima”. Dali, who actually had no German, or English, speaks with a Spanish accent straight from the cod caricature Manuel manual.
Summer Strallen, as Jessica, moved skilfully between her various roles – the discussion of Seduction Theory in Act Two was especially well handled.
The ending – a last gasp for surrealism – featured all sorts of strange events; the lobster telephone made a brief appearance, before Freud settled back to sleep in his armchair again, and there was another urgent tap on the french windows.
The piece is textually very rich, the ideas both timeless and – child abuse, recovered “memories” - startlingly contemporary. All credit to London Classic Theatre for taking this modern classic out on the road, from Yeovil to Aberdare, from Malvern to the Mercury.