Minerva Studio, Chichester
Opened 10 October, 2000

Loveday Ingram's directorial career has burgeoned astonishingly of late. Of her Minerva Studio productions this year, The Blue Room has moved into the West End a bare couple of years since its premiere there, and Pal Joey transfers this week into the main house at Chichester. With Hysteria, Ingram revisits the territory of her 1999 Minerva success Insignificance: a Terry Johnson play drawing on historical characters to generate simultaneous strains of intellectual farce and meditation.

Hysteria – originally more highly feted than, but since eclipsed in popularity by, its near-contemporary from Johnson's pen Dead Funny – conflates various real and imagined events from Sigmund Freud's last months in exile in London so that he is visited at once by biblical scholar Dr Abraham Yahuda, the daughter of one of his early case histories and Salvador Dalí. A predominantly farcical first act with concealments, entrances, exits, disrobings and embarrassing discoveries of intimate clothing (including a literally Freudian slip) moves into a second phase which, in relation both to Surrealist art and the development of Freud's own theories, questions the extent to which our constant reinvention of self on various levels of consciousness impacts upon others... and how much more so if one is the father of modern psychiatry in the process of writing its rule book. In some respects Johnson's play is as much a contribution to the debate about child sexual abuse and recovered memory syndrome as, say, Arnold Wesker's much more openly polemical Denial.

As usual, Ingram's production is both scrupulous and fluid. Ian Bartholomew's Freud is, like Allan Corduner's Einstein in Insignificance, a central performance which is by and large understated yet po-facedly frantic when required; when even Freud is in farce mode, Clive Swift brings his lengthy straight-man experience to the role of Dr Yahuda. Guy Henry's Dalí, a delight of comic timing and register, points up the kinship of his aspect of the play to Stoppard's Travesties, whilst Alison McKenna acquits herself beautifully of both the switchback changes of mood and the dialectic heft contained in the part of Jessica, daughter of one of the women whose cases were the foundation for Freud's early theories (later revised) on hysteria and infantile seduction.

Ingram also handles well the sudden disintegration from drawing-room drama to bizarre dream-sequence as Colin Falconer's set sprouts a Dalíesque landscape and even the clock on the wall goes suddenly soft (and remember that the painting from which this image comes is, significantly, The Persistence Of Memory). It strikes me out of the blue that, should former Minerva graduate Sam Mendes be tempted after all to move on from the Donmar Warehouse, his old Chichester stamping ground has produced a more than plausible successor for him.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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