The National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) production of Anthony Neilson’s acclaimed 2004 Edinburgh International Festival hit The Wonderful World of Dissocia opened on Friday (30 March 2007) at the Royal Court where it runs until 21 April 2007 as part of a national tour (See News, 12 Dec 2006).
On a journey in search of one lost hour that tipped the balance of her life, Lisa Jones meets the funny, friendly and brutal inhabitants of the wonderful world she finds herself in, Dissocia. Written and directed by Neilson, the play is performed by original cast members James Cunningham, Christine Entwistle, Alan Francis, Amanda Hadingue, Jack James, Clair Little, Matthew Pidgeon and Barnaby Power. The play is co-produced by Plymouth’s Drum Theatre and Glasgow’s Tron Theatre.
First night critics had mixed reactions to the piece, which they said was superbly performed but disjointed and certainly absurd. While some admired the bold choices made by Neilson in his writing and direction and the Beckettian qualities of the second half, some found the piece sentimental and rather pointless.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (4 stars) - “The first act is like Alice in Wonderland with sex and violence, the second like Beckett without the jokes, bleached to antiseptic white neutrality…. I could sense sophisticated metropolitan Royal Courtiers, and one or two toffee-nosed critics, seizing up in horror at all this, but I relished the refreshing theatrical silliness of it all, the admirable dedication of Neilson’s eight-strong company (the playwright directs his own plays, indeed he writes them in rehearsal with the actors) and the grim black humour of both the civic satire and the extremity of Lisa’s ‘dream’…. The short second act is an ironic series of blank tableaux with Lisa sealed off behind a Perspex hospital ward in her bed, attended by medical staff and finally her boyfriend who cannot understand her, cannot abandon her…. It is the bleakest conclusion to the funniest play seen in Sloane Square for a very long time.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (3 stars) - “After the multi-coloured fantasy of the first half, the play moves into pure realism in the second. Lisa is now a patient in a psychiatric hospital where she is on enforced medication, treated by an array of doctors and visited by her uncomprehending sister and bewildered partner. If I was moved, it was by the spartan honesty of Neilson's own production and by the truthfulness of something many of us have experienced: the difficulty of communicating with people locked into their own world of depressive illness. Two things, however, disturb me about the play. One is that Neilson's Dissocia seems to be less a liberating invention than a literary-theatrical construct made up of a recollected chop-logic humour. The other is the assumption… that there is something life-denying about the curative treatment of mental disorder…. Christine Entwistle is highly impressive as Lisa from the first moment, when the string on her acoustic guitar noisily snaps, to the final seconds when she is seen clutching a tiny polar bear. Amanda Hadingue as her confused sister and Jack James as her partner convey the helplessness of those struggling to come to terms with mental illness in loved ones.”
Paul Taylor in the Independent (4 stars) - “A play of two extremely distinct halves - the one as gaudy and freewheeling as the other is bleached and forcibly restrained…. It offers an experience that feels disconcertingly like being swept from a David Lynch-style sex-and-violence pastiche of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to the stark and stripped-back territory of Beckett…. In the unevenly written first half, the troubled heroine Lisa (splendid Christine Entwisle) travels to the weird topsy-turvy land of Dissocia in a quest to retrieve the hour she lost while flying back from New York. Here, on a sloping landscape whose domestic-carpet cover signals the psychologically hermetic nature of her adventures, she encounters a series of twisted creations…. The second half unfolds as a hypnotic succession of short naturalistic blackout sketches with Lisa now sealed off from the audience behind glass doors in a sterile, white room in a psychiatric hospital. From sensory overload, we shift to starvation rations…. A vivid piece that leaves you haunted and in two minds.”
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (3 stars) – “Neilson succumbs to fantasy himself by claiming The Wonderful World of Dissocia virtually defines a new theatrical form of ‘psycho absurdism’. In fact, his surrealist black comedy comes dressed up in a new cut from the old-hat Theatre of the Absurd, with trimmings borrowed from Alice in Wonderland, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and David Lynch…. By imagining the dramatic life into which Lisa trips when abandoning medication and comparing it with her doped hospital torpor when back on medication, Neilson seeks to suggest why Lisa will always return to Dissocia. This comparison distorts her life-dilemma. Lisa's stay in hospital is temporary. In the end, she prepares to go home to the boyfriend. Neilson, who directs his own exuberant production, would have made a better argument if he had contrasted the wanderings of Lisa in Dissocia and her domestic life with Vince.”
- by Caroline Ansdell