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Hysteria (Bath)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Terry Johnson, playwright, screenwriter, director, and Anthony Sher, here revive Johnson’s 1993 Royal Court award-winner, Hysteria before taking it to Richmond, Oxford and Cambridge.

It’s 1939. We sit with Sigmund Freud in his Hampstead study, his days reaching their end. In night’s darkest hours a woman arrives, claiming to be his Anima, and challenging the ethics and foundations of his seminal works. Next to the party is Salvador Dali and Freud’s own physician who dispenses morphia and opprobrium (about Freud’s Jewish loyalties) in equal measure.

That is, in more ways than one, the set-up. Billed as farce, this play is far, far more. Like any human being, the surface is very unlike what lies underneath: there are codes, signposts, symbols (French windows for farce, for example). We touch melodrama, surrealism, filmic slow-mo and absurdity. Truth, perception, ethics, relationships, willful blindess: they’re all here in this Blumenthal-esque fruit salad of theatrical convention and modern consciousness.

This play is fascinating, thought-provoking, brave, fun, and intelligent. Sher is an enjoyable, not-too-rich Freud; Indira Varma shines faultlessly through the whole - the hot knife through the salty butter; Will Keen carries off the tough part of Dali with aplomb, while David Horovitch straddles Yahuda’s bumption admirably.

This is a play you want to watch again: immediately if at all possible. Thank goodness it's not available on DVD.


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