Hysteria: ★★★★★ from The Sunday Telegraph
Posted on 16 September 2013.
Posted in: Theatre Reviews
By Tim Walker, The Sunday Telegraph
“Comedy belongs to the divine space between reality and our perception of it”, ruminates Terry Johnson, the director and writer of Hysteria. “It illuminates the paradoxical nature of the lives around us, as we try to make sense of the senseless.”
Making good on his definition of the word, Johnson’s revival of his 1993 play, inspired by Salvador Dali’s meeting with Sigmund Freud at the latter’s north London home – not so far away from Hampstead Theatre – amounts to an exhilarating tightrope walk between sanity and madness, and it is, I have to say, hysterically funny.
Sir Antony Sher was born to play the troubled Austrian neurologist. Ever since the actor created that arachnidan Richard III for the RSC almost 30 years ago, he has made a speciality of damaged, neurotic, but strangely charismatic characters.
After turns in two recent productions which seemed unworthy of him – Travelling Light and The Captain of Köpenick, both for the National – the great man is indubitably playing to his strengths again as the tweedy, world-weary Freud, who reluctantly has to welcome the youthful Spanish surrealist painter to his home in 1938.
The work is inspired by what was in reality a brief and unremarkable encounter, but Johnson sexes it up by introducing into the proceedings a sultry female presence – Lydia Wilson’s Jessica – who has a bone to pick with Freud. David Horovitch adds some useful balast as Yahuda, Freud’s personal physician, trying against the odds to keep the old boy alive, even though his cancer cells – “the National Socialists of human meat,” as Freud calls them – are taking hold of his body as swiftly as Hitler is in Europe.