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24 September 2014
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Theatre and Dance

Sean Foley as Freud and Sam Swainsbury as Dali
Surreal? Freud and Dali

Hysteria at the Birmingham REP

By contributor Ben Macnair
'Hysteria' is a fictionalised remake of an actual meeting between Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dali in 1938. Ben Macnair went to sample for himself a night of Surrealism in the city at the Birmingham REP.

Over two hours 'Hysteria' covered elements of farce, surrealism, and human tragedy to good effect.

The play is set in 1938 a year before Freud (played by Sean Foley) - ravaged with the effects of cancer of the jaw - dies. The Jewish doctor has escaped from Austria with his family, but grieves for the older sisters he has left there.

Sam Swainsbury as Dali and Ruth Miller as Jessica
Handsome: Dali and Jessica

The play, written by Terry Johnson, also tackles uncomfortable themes such as death, sexual abuse and trauma. The harsh realities of life.

Life's not easy

Dali (Sam Swainsbury) brings with him to the meeting Jessica (Ruth Miller); an attractive young student and the daughter of one of Freud's first case studies. She is looking for answers to long forgotten secrets that she believes only Freud can help her with.

The revelations that she reveals about her past; the past of her parents; and Freud's own past, show that there are no easy answers.

Hysteria Poster for the Birmingham REP
Hysteria at the Birmingham REP

Although the topics were dark, the play was also lightened with the farce of Freud trying to hide Jessica and Dali (both often in states of undress) from his doctor and good friend Abraham (John Burgess).

A nightmare ending of figures of death and decay, melting clocks and weeping at reminders of his children gives way to the elderly and ailing Freud facing his own mortality.

In facing mortality through the past, Freud and Jessica find emancipation whilst Dali gives up on Surrealism and begins to tackle more serious themes in his work.

Faulty lessons?

Sean Foley as Freud
A Freudian blip?

The acting was full of pathos and humanity, but at times it seemed that the farcical elements were shoe-horned in for comedic effect.

The tall and rangy Freud came across as being a less manic John Cleese character, whilst the Spanish accent of Dali gave it the air of Fawlty Towers. Although the line 'he's from Barcelona' would have been factually incorrect, there were times at which it's use would have been apt.

The ending where the beginning of the piece repeats itself leaves a sense of ambiguity as to what is actually reality and what is only believed to be real. Ultimately it shows that the line between reality and fiction is very thin, but it is on this line that much of life and humanity exists.

The play runs at the Birmingham REP until May 12th

All photos credit Robert Day.

last updated: 27/04/07
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