London Classic Theatre
February 28—March 1, 2017
HYSTERIA is described as an award-winning farce, but that’s only really half of it.
Slapstick it certainly is, at times — but it’s also a crash course in psychoanalysis and a timely reflection on child abuse.
It portrays a semi-fictional meeting between Sigmund Freud (Ged McKenna) and Salvador Dali (John Dorney), near the end of the first man’s life.
Into this odd mix come physician Dr Yashuda (Moray Treadwell) and mystery woman Jessica (Summer Strallen), each of whom pose a serious challenge to Freud’s legacy.
The play’s tone is all over the place, bouncing between pitch black and Carry On camp.
Freud delivers sombre monologues on his life’s work and impending death, while trying to hide the half-naked Jessica from Dali in his bathroom.
And while she re-enacts the hysterical horror of a past patient, driven mad by child molestation, Dali winces comically and even cracks jokes.
In fact the artist, who spends much of the story trouserless, would be as much at home in “Are You Being Served?”
But then, from what little I’ve read about Dali, it’s a pretty accurate portrayal.
This bipolarism meant I couldn’t take the soul-searching altogether seriously and could rarely laugh at the gags.
By the interval, I was desperate for some plot device which would justify this jumping bean plot — and the show’s Olivier Award for best comedy.
Sure enough, near the story’s end, that device strikes like a lightning bolt and the play’s split personality is forgiven.
To tell you what happens here would be an enormous spoiler, so I’ll leave it at that.
Suffice to say that every actor’s performance — at first disordered and inconsistent — comes out looking impressively versatile by the end.