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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Talking Cure
Cottesloe Theatre, Winter 2002-03

Christopher Hampton's new play focuses on psychoanalytic pioneer Carl Jung, suggesting a parallel and perhaps a cause-and-effect relationship between his break with his mentor Freud and his rule-breaking affair with former patient Sabina Spielrein.

But the playwright's need to fill us in on so very much psychoanalytic theory and jargon in order to make the professional story make sense leaves him little room to make the personal story come alive or to develop the relationship between the two.

Historically, Jung was one of Freud's first disciples, adding a few twists of his own (He came up with word-association games, for example), and was all but anointed by the master as his professional heir.

But Freud's unwillingness to let Jung stray too far from strict orthodoxy precipitated a break that occurred about the same time that Jung was breaking an unwritten law by sleeping with a patient; and Jung's interest in mysticism (not covered in the play) eventually led him far afield.

What was the connection? An inherently rebellious spirit? not likely, given the very bourgeois Jung that Hampton shows us. What he learned from Spielrein between bonks? She became a analyst herself, and contributed significantly to theories of the sexual and death impulses, but we don't see any of that affecting Jung as much as it annoys Freud. And that's where Hampton's play falls apart.

There are two stories being told here, about Jung's break with Freud and about his affair with Spielrein, and they remain two unconnected plot lines from start to finish. Meanwhile, neither one is really brought alive.

Freud and Jung are too busy spouting jargon at each other and one-upping each other with brilliant insights for us to care much about their theoretical differences, while Jung's cure of the patient Speilrein and affair with the ex-patient Speilrein both happen too quickly to really be believed.

Ralph Fiennes works hard to keep Jung a human character and make his intellectual and emotional turmoils real and engaging, but Jodhi May is never able to make Spielrein come alive, either pre- or post-cure.

Dominic Rowan had to step into the role of Freud very late, while also playing the totally renegade analyst Otto Gross, so he can be forgiven for turning both of them into semi-caricatures. Howard Davies' direction is stately-approaching-ponderous, and everyone involved is hampered by the need to navigate Tim Hatley's excessively elaborate set.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Talking Cure - National 2003