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Theatre Review: Hysteria


by Terry Johnson

Director Susanna Dowling

Darlinghurst Theatre Co.

Eternity Playhouse until April 30

Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP

Theatre reviews sydney

So Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dali find themselves in the same room. Then what happens?

It’s 1938 and “The Father of Psychoanalysis”, Sigmund Freud, at age 82, is preparing to retire (he would leave his mortal coil a year later). He is visited by the 34 year-old eccentric narcissist, Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marqués de Dalí de Púbol, who talks about himself in the third person as “Dali”.

The connection between these historical giants provides the “box office appeal” for Hysteria, but the main game is between Freud and Jessica, a young woman who bangs on his door at 5 am. She is insistent, intense, determined and neurotic, and to shake Freud out of his dismissiveness, she removes all of her clothing. Jessica initially presents herself as a potential patient, then as a student of Freud before she exposes her true motive. Through Jessica, Freud is forced to confront the limitations and fallacies of his own theories and practices about which he had so much certainty. So which of the two is more hysterical?

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Add to the mix Abraham Yahuda, who, in an example of historical flexibility, is Freud’s physician and confidant, and then Dali, the self-obsessed master of surrealism.

There are a few surprising aspects to this production. Hysteria, at times, is a fast-paced three-door farce, and at other times, is thought-provoking with poignant pauses.

Yahuda is played by veteran actor Wendy Strehlow who is unrecognisable in a man’s suit and moustache. Michael McStay is the Spaniard Dali who was 5’7” tall. The towering McStay has the stage presence and exaggerated physicality of Basil Fawlty with the accent of Manuel. As Freud, Jo Turner, who studied at L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq, where Geoffrey Rush also trained, convincingly plays a character who is most likely twice the actor’s age. As Jessica, recent NIDA graduate Miranda Daughtry is superlative under the direction of Susanna Dowling. Daughtry’s career will be worth watching. If her performance in this production is any indication of her talent, she will find success on the global stage.

I found Hysteria to be interesting, compelling, thought-provoking and entertaining, and it’s only on until April 30.

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