HAMPSTEAD THEATRE PRESENTS, IN ASSOCIATION WITH THEATRE ROYAL BATH PRODUCTIONS
By AND DIRECTED BY TERRY JOHNSON
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes including a 20 minute interval
£15 - £32 (See ticket information)
And you've another visitor; some Spanish idiot with a ridiculous moustache. Dilly, Dally?
5 Sep - 12 Oct 2013
£15 - £32
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
1938. Hampstead, London.
Sigmund Freud has fled Nazi-occupied Austria and settled in leafy Swiss Cottage. At eighty two years old, he aims to spend his final days in peace. However, when Salvador Dalí turns up to discover a less than fully dressed woman in the closet, peace becomes somewhat elusive…
An acknowledged Modern Classic, Terry Johnson’s hilarious farce explores the fall-out when two of the twentieth century’s most brilliant and original minds collide.
Double Olivier award-winner Antony Sher makes a highly anticipated return to Hampstead Theatre in a play that also raises intriguing questions about Freud’s radical revision of his theories of hysteria. His recent theatre credits include The Captain of Kopenick and Travelling Light at the National Theatre.
Terry Johnson returns to Hampstead Theatre following the sell-out hits Old Moneystarring Maureen Lipman and David Mamet’s Race. His many award-winning productions include Entertaining Mr Sloane, The Graduate and La Cage aux Folles in the West End.
Image courtesy of The Freud Museum
I remember being bowled over by Terry Johnson’s Hysteria when it received its premiere at the Royal Court in 1993. Twenty years on it strikes me as a modern classic. Johnson does something remarkable here combining low farce with intellectual muscle. The result is hilariously funny, genuinely thought-provoking and at key moments, deeply affecting. In this play, Johnson proves the equal of Tom Stoppard at his best.
The action is set 1938. Sigmund Freud, now in his eighties and afflicted by cancer of the jaw, is in his new home in Hampstead having recently fled the Nazis. In the course of the play news comes through of Kristallnacht.
But Freud’s immediate concern is the woman who has burst into his room in the middle of the night, threatening suicide with a cut-throat razor and removing her clothes. He mistakes her for a patient, but in fact she has come to talk about her mother, whom Freud treated many years previously.
This part of the play becomes a fascinating and emotionally turbulent examination of why Freud changed his view on infant sexuality. Initially he thought that hysteria was caused by actual sexual abuse. Later he revised this opinion insisting that it was actually the sub-conscious desires of the children themselves. His nocturnal visitor harrowingly re-enacts her mother’s therapy sessions with Freud and reveals just how devastating his later recantation of his theory proved.
Yet in the midst of this raw psychodrama, hilarity keeps breaking out. Salvador Dalí, a great fan of Freud, arrives (as he did in real life) mangling the English language to hilarious effect as he proclaims his own genius. And Freud’s deeply respectable doctor is appalled to discover the father of psychoanalysis attempting to remove the surrealist’s trousers with what appears to be urgent sexual intent.
Johnson directs his own wildly imaginative but also scrupulously researched play with panache, achieving a farcical comic momentum that somehow finds space for moments of both deep emotion and intellectual rigour. Lez Brotherston’s design meticulously re-creates Freud’s study as well as offering some spectacular dream-like surprises in the course of the play, while the cast is outstanding.
Antony Sher, best known for serious classical roles, reveals himself as a natural farceur here as Freud, who has to conceal a scantily clad woman in the lavatory and puncture the megalomania of the insufferable Dalí. Yet even in the farcical mayhem, Sher somehow never lets us forget that Freud was a great man. There is a palpable intellectual and emotional hinterland here, highly unusual in farce, and a moving sense of mortality and human fallibility, too.
Adrian Schiller delivers a comic tour-de-force as Dalí, with a hilarious Spanish accent and a preposterous self-importance; Lydia Wilson is touching as the young woman, Jessica, determined to find out why Freud radically changed his view on the sexual trauma theory of neurosis, while David Horovitch is superb as the solidly respectable doctor who finds himself caught up in the chaos.
It’s a cracking night that makes you laugh, think and feel – sometimes all at the same time.
Charles Spencer, 15 September, 2013
“This is my study,” insists Sigmund Freud to a half-dressed young woman who has forced her way into his Hampstead home, “not some boulevard farce.” How wrong can a guy be. And it’s not the last time in Terry Johnson’s play that the father of psychoanalysis isn’t as on top of things as he’d like to be. Psychoanalysis is all about the uncovering of buried secrets. So is farce. So what a stroke of genius to turn Freud’s last moments at his Hampstead home in 1939 into a mix of slapstick, psychodrama and memory play that’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes sobering.
Johnson’s revival of his own 1993 farce arrives here, just round the corner from its setting, after a successful run at the Theatre Royal, Bath, last year. And as Antony Sher’s ailing Freud sits alone at the start in his warm, book-lined study, Lez Brotherston’s design looks remarkably authentic.
What ensues mixes the truthful with the remarkably inauthentic. Yes, Salvador Dalí did meet Freud in London once — but he never ended up trouserless and unconscious in his host’s closet. Did Freud really deliver deft one-liners about his rival, Jung, “that Swiss nitwit”? Was his one regret in life his recent visit to see Ben Travers’s farce Rookery Nook? Or is the stage actually a cauldron of regrets, even when he angrily defends his theories against Jessica, the (fictional) young woman who claims that her life has been blighted by them?
Johnson’s plays often make merry with real-life characters: Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, the Carry On team. This one is weird and wonderful in a manner entirely its own. It’s sublimely silly one moment, supremely serious the next. And just when you’re thinking that it really should make up its mind what kind of play it wants to be, it delivers a knockout ending (the less you know the better) that explains the anomalies.
You need a great cast to bind these lurches in tone, and Johnson has got just that. When the farce kicks in both Sher (extraordinary) and David Horovitch as Dr Yahuda (a real figure, made into a farcical inquisitor figure) quietly go up a gear without losing any seriousness. Lydia Wilson as the interloping Jessica is posing, preposterously, as Dalí’s wife one minute, making a heartfelt attack on Freud’s integrity the next. And Adrian Schiller’s Dalí, on a doomed mission to get the great man’s seal of approval for Surrealism, is so sincere in his ludicrousness that he brings a note of joy to even the darkest moment. It’s a Möbius strip of the funny and the painful, the scholarly and the dreamlike. All that, and a great Freudian slip joke too.
Dominic Maxwell, 15 September, 2013
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 andThe 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.
Tim Walker, 15 September, 2013
There is far more to Johnson’s confection than mere laughter and clever jokes involving underwear and Freudian slips. It shows us that farce is a very serious business, drawing on subconscious fears and long-buried repressions. This is, after all, a drama that takes us from dropped trousers to the gates of Auschwitz, and where the naked woman in the closet is asking hard questions about why, after developing a theory that the distress of many of his female patients arose from sexual abuse within the family, Freud subsequently recanted.
That’s the question at the heart of a piece which constantly deflates myths, from Dalí’s self-conscious artistic antics to the foundations of modern psychoanalysis. “Remove the essence of myth and you undermine the foundation of our faith,” cries Freud’s doctor, Yahuda, who is outraged that Freud intends to publish the theory that Moses, the founder of the Jewish nation, was in fact an Egyptian aristocrat.
It’s all clever stuff, reminiscent of Tom Stoppard. But it’s not just funny, it’s unexpectedly moving, too, in this revival directed by the author. The wit is never facetious, and the pain that bubbles beneath it is exquisitely balanced in two mighty central performances. Lydia Wilson plays the distress of Jessica, a woman trying to find answers about the past so she can make a future for herself, wonderfully well. As Freud, Antony Sher mines the comic pathos of the increasingly bewildered morphine-addled Freud, but also shows the gravitas of the man and his rumbling fears. “I hate the dark. I’ve seen what’s in it,” he says, and we can’t be sure whether he is talking about death, the looming shadows in Europe, or his own self-analysis from more than 40 years before, when he looked inside himself and glimpsed a terrible truth.
Lyn Gardner, 15 September, 2013
The Evening Standard
Antony Sher is on top form as Sigmund Freud in Terry Johnson’s complex play, a big success when it premiered 20 years ago.
It’s 1938 and Freud, in his eighties, is dying of cancer. Sher combines gravitas with hesitancy, conveying the character’s mix of missionary zeal and meticulous detachment.
Johnson’s inspiration was a real-life meeting between Freud and Salvador Dali, who dropped in for tea at the psychoanalyst’s house in Hampstead, hoping to consult him.
Here the artist’s visit coincides with another — by Jessica, a young woman obsessed with Freud’s work. At first her arrival seems merely embarrassing and she is obliged to hide in a closet. But gradually we learn of more awkward reasons for trying to keep her there.
Lydia Wilson brings energy to Jessica, who seems to be the voice of Freud’s conscience.Adrian Schiller’s amusing Dali strikes curious poses, carrying himself like a matador yet also managing to resemble a high-end pimp, and David Horovitch hits the right note as Freud’s tough-minded neighbour.
For Johnson, who also directs, the story of Freud meeting Dali is a fine opportunity to blend seriousness and comedy. The staging is inventive, with an excellent set by Lez Brotherston, yet it’s the play itself that impresses most.
As Dali’s fantasies collide with Freud’s more measured and fearful manner, absurdity proliferates. At times we veer towards farce. There are plenty of good jokes — not all of the kind to raise a hearty laugh, though some certainly do get such a reaction. But this is also a dark, symbolic portrait of concealment, exposure and recovery.
Some will find Johnson’s juggling of subject matter bemusing. One moment we’re in the realm of lost trousers, slamming doors and discarded underwear; the next we’re steeped in the language of psychoanalysis, probing traumas.
But Johnson makes a telling connection between laughter and pain and the result is a nimble, troubling piece that leaves the audience with a lot to think about.
Henry Hitchings, 15 September, 2013
The Sunday Times
This transfer of Terry Johnson’s 1993 Freud farce to the Hampstead Theatre, a stone’s throw from the north London stomping ground of the founder of psychoanalysis, may beEdward Hall’s canniest bit of programming to date. Freud (Antony Sher), in the gloaming of his life, dozes in his hushed consulting room, only to be beset by visitors intent on disturbing his peace. A distraught young woman (a quivering yet implacable Lydia Wilson) taps insistently on his french window, whipping off her clothes when he tries to shoo her away, then the snail-munching surrealist painter Salvador Dali arrives for a bounce on the couch and won’t depart. Johnson’s play isn’t glitch-free, but you can’t help but be tickled and impressed by its mash-up of Rookery Nook-style caper and Freudian dreamscape, and its crafty joy in delving into variants on the word “hysteria”. Hilarity keeps mounting, only to be elbowed aside by the evening’s more serious concerns; at its core, this is a deathbed self-reckoning. The production is held together by a magnificently judicious and surprisingly tender turn from Sher, encased in tweed, trying to maintain his equability in the face of scantily clad women and the return of the repressed.
Maxie Szalwinska, 15 September, 2013
‘Is serious now, yes?’ asks Salvador Dalí, standing, absurdly dignified, in his underpants. ‘I go put my trousers on.’
Terry Johnson’s 1993 play is a dazzling comic quick-change act: one moment broadly farcical, the next a surreal nightmare. In evoking the proximity of laughter and grief – the two faces of the heightened state of hysteria – it leaves you shocked, delighted and appalled.
The author’s own production is acted with consummate sparkling skill and startling poignance by a cast led by Antony Sher as a haunted Sigmund Freud whose head is filled with horrors.
Freudian theory and Dalí-esque imagery twine sinuously through scintillating dialogue that nimbly explores issues of faith, identity, guilt, sexual politics and the ethics of psychoanalysis.
The toxic pall of the Holocaust hangs over Freud’s room, which in Lez Brotherston’sdesign is the colour of dried blood, and in a stunning, climactic coup de théâtre, is transformed into a dreamscape of grotesque terrors. Sher is riveting, part dictatorial and part pitiful, confused, fearful old man. Brilliantly discomfiting, humane and horribly funny.
Sam Marlowe, 15 September, 2013
Terry Johnson’s delicious farcical three-way involving Sigmund Freud, Salvador Dali and the dysfunctional daughter of an abused mother is not only unusually funny, but tenaciously unusual.
Antony Sher, hilariously weighing each line with the laboured intensity of a man charging much more than a penny for his thoughts, is a haunted, hunted Freud on the brink of death (cancer of the mouth was eating into him), attended by David Horovitch’slugubriously straight-faced Jewish doctor Yahuda.
Dali as a walking bundle of tics, anxieties and sexual neuroses – he didn’t paint the Great Masturbator for nothing – is just about right, and Adrian Schiller is a joy to watch as the lunacy escalates around him, as if he had nothing to do with it. And Lydia Wilson skilfully treads a fine line between vulnerable patient and avenging harpy in her Freudian slip.
The famous Stoppardian tableau of the bicycle pump, the Wellington boot and Anna Freud’s knickers embroils all three iconic characters in a sculpture that suggests the Freud museum in Hampstead is turning into the Dali museum in Figueres. For this is the ultimate farce as a dream play, and Sher’s compelling, distraught protagonist, wild-eyed, bearded and heavily accented, is his own worst nightmare. Great stuff.
Michael Coveney, 15 September, 2013
WRITER AND DIRECTOR
Figment & U/S Freud
Figment & U/S Dali
Hysteria: Review By Maxie Szalwinska, Sunday Times
Hysteria: Review By Sam Marlowe, Metro
Hysteria: Review By Tim Walker, The Sunday Telegraph
Hysteria: Review By Charles Spencer, The Telegraph
Hysteria: Review By Michael Coveney, WhatsOnStage
When Terry Johnson was rehearsing Race for us, which proved one of the most attended successes in Hampstead’s history, we at last had a chance to talk in earnest about the possibility of bringing Hysteria to Hampstead.
Antony Sher as Sigmund Freud leads a cast of David Horovitch, Adrian Schiller and Lydia Wilson in Terry Johnson’s Hysteria, a hilarious and insightful farce that raises intriguing questions about Freud’s radical revision of his theories on hysteria.
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