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Meeting of minds is high on farce

Posted on: 7th February, 2017

The first review for Hysteria is in…take a read below


Hysteria at Malvern Theatres 1-4 February 2017


This tragi-comedy features two of the 20th century’s icons – Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dalí, and is based on them meeting at Freud’s London home in 1938. Or is it?

Did these famous names – one a man of science and the other a man of the arts, actually meet or was it all in the mind, the imagination of one man – Freud, in his latter days of combating cancer of the jaw and using drugs to keep the pain at bay.

Playwright Terry Johnson’s work first saw the light of day back in 1993 when it won an Olivier Award for Best Comedy and to say it’s a clever idea and astute production is an understatement. It’s complex and compelling, as well as chucking in classic comedy which also borders on farce.

Hysteria, which to many of us in its colloquial form conjures up scenes of emotional excess, is a term now apparently largely ignored by modern medical professionals who have moved on from the diagnostic category to more defined areas such as somatization disorder.


Summer Strallen in Hysteria Photo: Sheila Burnett


Freud worked on hysteria early in his career, which purely and simply for a layman such as myself is, I understand, a complex neurosis in which psychological conflict within the patient evolves into physical symptoms such as amnesia and paralysis.

From the moment the action opens, very slowly and very quietly, it begs, even implores you not to switch off or you will be lost in this exceptionally well-acted mind game. Not that it would easy to switch off from a script that has so much to say and with so much going on as the play slips through the gears into a rapid acceleration of action.

Freud, it appears, is in conversation with an imaginary patient before addressing the audience about silence, and then comes the unexpected arrival of a mysterious woman, Jessica, via the French windows. Well it has to be French windows in a farce. This part is played with just the right amount of angst by Summer Strallen, and there’s a delightful performance too from Moray Treadwell as Freud’s amusing doctor, Abraham Yahuda.

Throw into the mix a wonderfully over-the-top take on the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí by John Dorney, so reminiscent of a certain waiter in Fawlty Towers, and there were hints too of those old Whitehall farces of yesteryear featuring Brian Rix… a disrobed lady in a closet, lost trousers and a bicycle covered in snails.

John Dorney and Ged McKenna in Hysteria. Photo: Sheila Burnett

Dalí doesn’t dally and digests one of said snails but it’s not in the best possible taste, as the whole play is. Freud himself elicits a stylish offering throughout from Ged McKenna, providing us with an Austrian neurologist who was coherent, confused yet supremely confident.

There’s plenty of psycho-analysis – psycho-babble – and ‘errors’ as Jessica, whose mother was treated by Freud, proves even great minds can fail at times as she takes to the couch to replay her mother’s fears and abuse. But always bubbling just below the serious surface was manic mayhem.

Of Freud and Dalí, two giants of their era when fame wasn’t bestowed simply for appearing on a reality show, being an overpaid footballer or dressing and behaving outrageously to play darts, director Michael Cabot says in his programme notes: “They were pioneers, visionaries and both left an enormous volume of work for future generations to ponder.”

There’s also plenty for audiences to ponder here too. What have they been watching and have they ‘been here before’ as the closing scene imitates the opening. Or is it simply our minds playing tricks? All so very Freudian.

Lots to think about and also to enjoy.


Allan Wallcroft – Bromsgrove Advertiser


Hysteria visits Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds betweenTuesday 21 – Saturday 25 February, you can book your tickets HERE

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