Like Alice in Wonderland by David Lynch
Mark Brown reviews The Wonderful World of Dissocia at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow
When the National Theatre of Scotland (which recently celebrated its first year on the public stage) announced that it was reviving Anthony Neilson’s extraordinary play The Wonderful World of Dissocia, it signalled its welcome intention to bring the real gems of contemporary Scottish theatre to new and wider audiences.
Neilson’s tragicomic journey through the mind (and, ultimately, the deadening medical suppression) of someone with psychosis, was, justly, the toast of the 2004 Edinburgh Festival, and the winner of a clutch of awards.
This NTS staging is, effectively, a carbon copy of the presentation of three years ago (which was a collaboration between the Edinburgh International Festival, Glasgow’s Tron Theatre and the Drum Theatre, Plymouth).
That, one should add, is no bad thing – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, as the saying goes. This revival (directed, as in 2004, by the playwright himself) has lost none of the piece’s capacity for searing originality, entertaining and powerful humour, and deeply affecting emotion.
A play of two very distinct halves, the first part of Dissocia finds us inside the psychosis of the drama’s protagonist Lisa (Christine Entwisle, superb in her return to the role).Like Alice in Wonderland directed by David Lynch, Lisa travels to the partitioned, war-ravaged nation of Dissocia in search of the “lost hour” which will restore balance to her life.
While there, the brilliantly conceived characters she meets give vivid expression to the physically and sexually violent horrors, but also the absurdist fun, faced by the psychotic mind.
If Neilson’s alternative world is a stunning work of imagination, the second half of the play – in which Lisa, now in hospital, is returned to medicated “normality” – creates a juddering atmospheric shift.Told from the perspective of Lisa as patient, it provides a sobering insight into why a person with psychosis might be attracted to her condition and repulsed by the medication which not only suppresses her illness, but also deadens her mind.
Brilliantly acted by an excellent ensemble (Barnaby Power’s Swiss watchmaker Victor Hesse is especially delicious), with two wonderfully contrasting sets by Miriam Buether, this simultaneously joyous and saddening play deserves the wider audience this tour provides. More than that, it also deserves to be considered a modern classic.
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on March 6, 2007
© Mark Brown