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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Hysteria
Hampstead Theatre Autumn 2013

In directing this revival of his 1993 play, Terry Johnson doesn't fully bring out all its strengths or disguise all its weaknesses. The result is rarely uninteresting or unentertaining, but even more rarely engrossing or exciting. 

Johnson imagines Sigmund Freud in London in the last year of his life when, for reasons you'll just have to accept for now, he finds himself playing host to a naked young woman, the mad and randy Salvador Dali, and Freud's conservative doctor. 

The first forty-five minutes or so of the play are thus pure 'quick-hide-in-here' trousers-down farce, as Freud labours to keep these three from encountering each other. 

Then gears shift rather abruptly as the girl coerces Freud into re-enacting one of his classic cases with her, eventually explaining that she's there to force him to admit that he reversed himself on one of the basic tenets of his psychoanalytic theory in the late 1890s not because he had been wrong but because he was afraid of what the original insight would expose about him. 

Her complaint (evidently one actually debated by Freud supporters and opponents) is that his cowardice in facing his own demons sentenced all those analysed after the reversal to inevitable and harmful misdiagnoses.

If that is getting a little too heady, things quickly shift gears once again, the stage opening up to a Daliesque surreal phantasmagoria before the playwright/director retreats to one of the most clichd of all possible routes to an ending. 

The problem is not that the play mixes low farce with high intellectual debate – that actually can be done. It is that neither the farce (which wants to be more frantic) nor the debate (which wants to matter to us more) nor the nightmare (which wants not to seem to come out of some other play) is staged as well as it should be, and that the gears grind more loudly than they should when we switch from one mode to another. 

Antony Sher is his usual charming, slightly scenery-chewing self as Freud, though more comic panic in the early scenes and depth of feeling in the later ones would be useful and not outside his range. 

Adrian Schiller as Dali, Lydia Wilson as the woman and David Horovitch all do solid and professional jobs, but none of them really gets beneath the surface of their character (or, in Schiller's case, caricature), which puts much of the blame on their director.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Hysteria - Hampstead Theatre 2013

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