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Sher causes critical Hysteria at Hampstead

Terry Johnson's ''Hysteria'', about a meeting between Salvador Dali and Sigmund Freud, opened at the Hampstead Theatre recently following its revival in Bath last year. Starring Antony Sher and Adrian Schiller, it runs until 12 October.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Antony Sher as Sigmund Freud

Michael Coveney

Terry Johnson's delicious farcical three-way involving Sigmund Freud, Salvador Dali and the dysfunctional daughter of an abused mother is not only unusually funny, but tenaciously unusual… Antony Sher, hilariously weighing each line with the laboured intensity of a man charging much more than a penny for his thoughts, is a haunted, hunted Freud… Schiller is a joy to watch… And Wilson skilfully treads a fine line between vulnerable patient and avenging harpy in her Freudian slip… this is the ultimate farce as a dream play, and Sher's compelling, distraught protagonist, wild-eyed, bearded and heavily accented, is his own worst nightmare. Great stuff.

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

Antony Sher is on top form… Sher combines gravitas with hesitancy… Lydia Wilson brings energy to Jessica... Adrian Schiller's amusing Dali strikes curious poses… and David Horovitch hits the right note as Freud's tough-minded neighbour… The staging is inventive, with an excellent set by Lez Brotherston, yet it's the play itself that impresses most… There are plenty of good jokes — not all of the kind to raise a hearty laugh, though some certainly do get such a reaction. But this is also a dark, symbolic portrait of concealment, exposure and recovery… Johnson makes a telling connection between laughter and pain and the result is a nimble, troubling piece that leaves the audience with a lot to think about.

Lyn Gardner

…There is far more to Johnson's confection than mere laughter and clever jokes involving underwear and Freudian slips. It shows us that farce is a very serious business… It's all clever stuff, reminiscent of Tom Stoppard. But it's not just funny, it's unexpectedly moving, too, in this revival directed by the author. On press night the comic timing in the first half was slightly awry, but the heart and soul of this audacious piece remained evident throughout. The wit is never facetious, and the pain that bubbles beneath it is exquisitely balanced in two mighty central performances. Lydia Wilson plays the distress of Jessica… wonderfully well. As Freud, Antony Sher mines the comic pathos of the increasingly bewildered morphine-addled Freud, but also shows the gravitas of the man and his rumbling fears…

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

…Johnson does something remarkable here combining low farce with intellectual muscle. The result is hilariously funny, genuinely thought-provoking and at key moments, deeply affecting… Johnson directs his own wildly imaginative but also scrupulously researched play with panache, achieving a farcical comic momentum that somehow finds space for moments of both deep emotion and intellectual rigour… the cast is outstanding. Antony Sher… reveals himself as a natural farceur here as Freud… Adrian Schiller delivers a comic tour-de-force… Lydia Wilson is touching… David Horovitch is superb as the solidly respectable doctor who finds himself caught up in the chaos. It's a cracking night that makes you laugh, think and feel – sometimes all at the same time.

Sarah Hemming
Financial Times

It's a highly original, sophisticated and provocative comedy, asking what we laugh at and why and deliberately pushing the boundaries. And though it's somehow more admirable than likeable, it's hard to imagine it better done than in Johnson's nimble revival, led by Antony Sher. There's an added frisson to this production (seen at Bath Theatre Royal last year) as the London house where the dying Freud spent his final months is only a stroll away from the theatre... Sher is quietly masterful as Freud, his flustered panic giving way to sunken, gnawing distress as he realises he cannot escape this appointment with his darkest fears. And there is excellent support from Adrian Schiller as the pin-thin, pin-striped, neurotic Dalí, David Horovitch as the solid, bemused doctor, and Lydia Wilson as the damaged young woman. A troubling comedy, disturbingly well done.