Along similar lines to his most well known play Insignificance, (also made into a film directed by Nicolas Roeg), British playwright Terry Johnson’s play HYSTERIA features well know characters from history. In Insignificance we had Marilyn Monroe, Joseph McCarthy, Joe DiMaggio and Albert Einstein. In HYSTERIA we have Dr Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dali.
In real life these two iconic and very different characters did have one meeting in 1938 at Freud’s home in London where he had only recently moved to after fleeing Nazi Germany. Little is known of what took place at the meeting. Johnson’s HYSTERIA is an imaginative dramatisation of this meeting with a couple of other characters thrown in. Freud’s treating Doctor, Abraham Yahuda, is a regular visitor to his house, providing whatever support he could as the Professor was dying of cancer of the jaw.
Then there is Jessica, a young lady, who, unannounced, comes through the Professor’s back balcony door in the middle of the night. She is clearly in a disturbed state, and demands to be seen by him.
This is the scenario that Johnson sets up however it takes one a while to work out where he is going with it.
For a long time into the play there is a mainly comical, farcical, even hysterical tone. Then there is a switch, the play turns for home, and one gets that there is a much more serious undertow happening. As the title suggest it might, Johnson’s play shines a blowtorch on Freud’s controversial theories/notions of hysteria in women.
Susanna Dowling’s production represents the play’s Sydney premiere, and credit goes to the Darlinghurst Theatre Company for including her production in this year’s program. She does well with what it is a tricky and unsettling play.
Dowling’s cast are exemplary. One suspects that more than a few actors would relish the opportunity to play Professor Freud on stage, and Jo Turner makes the most of this opportunity.
In another role that would attract actors from far and wide, Michael McStay is a lot of fun as the ungainly, outrageous, licentious Dali.
Wendy Strehlow, in an interesting example of cross gender casting, impressed as Dr Freud’s good, and in this instance rather perplexed Dr Yahuda.
Miranda Daughtry made a strong impression in the role of Jessica, Freud’s uninvited guest, who is the play’s protagonist, driving the play’s conflict.
Anna Gardiner continues to impress with her designs for the stage – this time it is the inside of Professor Freud’s study – including his long desk with numerous artefacts sitting on top, there is, of-course, the obligatory analyst’s couch. The main wall of his apartment is appropriately skewered. There are two doors running off the study, allowing for plenty of opening and closing of doors as the farcical part to the play heats up.
Summing up, HYSTERIA is not your regular kind of night at the theatre. Expect the unexpected. But, then again, would you expect anything else from a play which has Mr Freud and Mr Dali in it?!
Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s production of Terry Johnson’s HYSTERIA is playing the Eternity Playhouse, 38 Burton Street, Darlinghurst until 30th April.