Directed by Susanna Dowling
Darlinghurst Theatre Company
39 Burton Street, Darlinghurst
Season: 31 March – 30 April
Freud's theories changed history in the world of psychoanalysis. Phallic obsessions, daddy issues and more - all drawn out from the patient's subconscious. Susanna Dowling's production of Hysteria gets inside the head of this man, who caused something of a critical juncture in modern history. Part drama, part farce, Terry Johnson's play is a curious conglomerate that Dowling has engaged with well to hit winning points within each aspect of the contrasting genres.
There are some excellent performances in this production - most noteworthy being Miranda Daughtry as Jessica. She outpours an abundance of energy and focus into this portrayal, achieving a harmony of quirk, comedy and an unsettling nature to reveal a fascinating and multifaceted character. The funny thing about Johnson’s play is the genre-jump between drama and farce that occurs mid-show; I found it rather grating. Dowling deals with both parts well, creating engagement during both sections, and yet neither seemed to gel. To me, the dramatic storyline didn’t require the farcical elements and vice versa. Michael McStay plays Dali with enthusiasm, but in terms of his character’s structural relevance, he fits better into the farcical section of the show. Aside from a similar fascination with incestuous sex, it wasn’t clear to me why he needed to be in Freud’s office while the events unfold. Johnson’s play is strange.
What is made clear to me by this production, is the historic suppression of sexual abuse of women, and the consequent demonisation of her experiences. The oppressive use of ‘scientific knowledge’ to dismiss a woman as a hapless hysteric was, and is, systemic. This spoke to me loud and clear – and persists in relevance. Daughtry is a brilliant protagonist to carry this message through. I thoroughly enjoyed the meaty parts of the play that engaged with these ideas and make pertinent points in an eloquent theatrical manner. Dowling’s direction is spot on, creating immense suspense and packing the punches where you feel it the most.
Anna Gardiner’s production design is impeccable. The walls that frame the stage drip with surrealism, standing on a major angle, completely unconventional for a wall and yet never acknowledged by the characters in their entrances and exits. Is what we know as reality actually the real thing? As the play proceeds, projections onto these angled walls thrust you into a terrifying wonderland that consumes you, swallowing you up. It’s quite fantastic.
Johnson’s play is kind of bizarre, but Dowling’s production is really good – and some parts are utterly gripping. It’s important we look critically at the individuals and thought movements that have vastly shaped intellectual bodies of our day. Hysteria casts a dubious light over Freud’s legacy, for good reason. Plus, you get some farcical comedy thrown in for good measure. Why not?