London Classic Theatre was formed in 1993 and Hysteria is its 35th production. As a company it produces ‘good’ plays – writers such as Pinter, Beckett, Wilde and Ibsen figure in its list of touring productions (and LCT has been on the road since 2000). The company is run by skilled and experienced professionals and employs only good actors and production staff. In short you know that LCT will not let you down if you are looking for an intelligent night at the theatre.
What of Hysteria then? It is described as a farce and there are plenty of traditional farcical elements; actors are caught trouserless, doors open and close, innocent white lies spiral out of control to create stories that become absurd and nonsensical. But this is farce more in the style of Stoppard, say, than Rix. Hysteria is also a play about ideas and consciousness; about intellectual honesty and fraud.
It is set in Hampstead in 1938 in the home of Sigmund Freud (Ged McKenna). Freud has escaped the Nazis but he has cancer and knows that he is dying – and he never did like waiting on platforms for trains. No matter much time you have to prepare you are never ready to board. He is attended to by Dr Yahuda (Moray Treadwell). Freud has shown Yahuda an essay that he is written in which he concludes that Moses was an Egyptian; Dr Yahuda is horrified at what he sees as a betrayal of the Jewish people.
Outside it is raining. There is thunder and a knocking on the doors to the garden. A young woman (Summer Strallen), ill-dressed for the weather is outside and begs to be admitted. Freud is reluctant. He is too ill and has too little time for new patients but the woman is persistent and appears to threaten self-harm. She says she needs little time with Freud.
At this point farcical elements develop – the woman ends up in a cupboard naked; Yahuda wants to mend his bicycle which is covered in snails and then Salvador Dali (John Dorney) turns up to pay tribute to another genius and ask Freud for his opinion on his work. As it turns out Freud prefers Vermeer, Dali ‘murders dreams’.
The young woman (only late on do we learn that she is called Jessica) emerges – clothed – from the cupboard to confront Freud about his work with her mother, a patient 30 years ago. She thinks him fundamentally dishonest and dangerous in the same way that Freud doubts Dali.
Terry Johnson wrote Hysteria for the Royal Court in 1993. Even at that date the reputations of Freud and Dali were in decline; no doubt their ideas had been presented coarsely and simply by others as they became more widely known. Freud was often thought of as ‘sex mad’ and Dali simply ‘mad’. Hysteria is entertaining and well-crafted and by the end the spaces between the real, the imaginary, our conscious activity and the significance of our dreams become both narrower and wider. The place of Freud and Dali in 20th century western culture may be secured but their legacy is doubtful.
The production can be seen until February 18. Go to http://www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk for ticket details.