Hysteria, written and directed by Terry Johnson, Hampstead Theatre. Review by Julia Pascal.

Hysteria is a massive trick.  At first it seems to be a sex comedy.  Sigmund Freud meets Salvador Dali and tries to pull off Dali’s trousers.  Yahuda, Freud’s doctor, accuses Freud of attempted sodomy.  Jessica, a young woman pretending to be a patient, strips her way into his surgery.  Embarrassed in front of his physician, who finds Jessica’s underwear, Freud tries to pass her off as Dali’s Russian wife.  By the middle of the first act the plot seems merely silly.  But, when Jessica reveals she is the daughter of one of Freud’s famous patients – a former hysteric raped by her father, the mood shifts from absurdism to psychological thriller.

Hysteria asks whether Freud changed his mind about the innocence of  child rape victims  to  protect powerful men in the Viennese establishment.  Did he also lie about his original research, which found so many men raping their daughters, so that he could hide his own incestuous feelings?  These are the disturbing questions that shift into forensics.

Johnson’s deeply layered text explores theatre, dreams, fantasy, art and the sexual imagination.  This is a stimulating evening that shocks and pleases.  Anthony Sher’s Freud starts as a pantomime clown and ends as the tragic scientist.  Lydia Wilson as Jessica is protean.  Adrian Schiller’s Dali is volatile and funny.  David Horovitch’s performance as Doctor Yahuda is strongly rooted.  A stronger cast could not be imagined.  This is a moving evening which has huge resonances.  Bravo to Hampstead for reviving it.  Bravo to Johnson for this masterpiece.

Julia Pascal © 2013.