Sunday, June 10, 2007

"The Wonderful World of Dissocia" - June 2007

It would be unfair to write a review of the NTS production of writer/director Anthony Neilson's "Wonderful World of Dissocia" without a bit of a preface on how we came to see it. As we've discussed in our "Are You Positive?" piece our reviews are normally of shows that we've specifically chosen to see, and have spent our own money on the tickets. While all that is technically still true for our visit to "Dissocia" it isn't quite the full story...

"Dissocia" had already played at the Tron in Glasgow earlier in the year, but we'd given it a miss. It just sounded a little too "off the wall" and surreal, without any prospect of rewarding message or meaning. However, on reaching London, and thanks in part to some sterling publicity generated by Neilson, "Dissocia" managed to kick up quite a bit of noise as it fiercely polarised opinions among both traditional critics and the London theatre blogs. Our interest piqued, we started to regret that we weren't able to contribute our own thoughts, but even then we wouldn't have gone to the effort of seeing it when it finally reached the Traverse in Edinburgh unless other events had meant we had to be in Edinburgh while it was playing. So there you go, please bear in mind when reading the review that we didn't approach the show with quite the same level of enthusiasm as most of the productions we see.

At the beginning of the play we meet "Lisa" (Christine Entwisle) and join her in her travels to the "land" (state?) of Dissocia. Reviews regularly describe Dissocia as being like Oz or Alice's journey in Wonderland, although I think Cuckoo Land from "Jamie and the Magic Torch" is a much closer comparison. We go on to meet a string of characters representing mental characteristics in what is apparently meant to be "darkly funny" but is neither funny enough or dark enough to have much of an impact - I think I grinned twice and laughed once in what is a gravely overlong first act. There are a couple of nice set pieces but the feeling as the first half came to an end was undoubtedly of disappointment.

The second act sees a massive and welcome change of setting as we return to reality, where "Lisa" is being treated in hospital for her breakdown. Staged in an enclosed box-like room with a clear front wall we see and hear her interact with doctors, nurses and family members. The Act has two stars - Entwisle finally given a moment to act rather than perform, and designer Miriam Buether. The setting is truly hypnotic and it seemed impossible not to be transfixed by it, in part due to the effective use of sound/lighting.

Act Two is a remarkable piece of theatre, but even then it isn't Neilson's dialogue that has an impact - at least not as much as there is potential for. Questions are raised about attitudes to mental illness and in particular the reluctance of patients to self-medicate but there isn't a great deal of depth to the discussion. The other problem Act Two has is Act One. Although some of the information and metaphors from Act One do carry through to "reality" there simply isn't enough to have made sitting through the first Act worthwhile, and with a bit of tweaking Act Two could stand perfectly well on its own.

Other than Entwisle, the performances were all sufficiently strong but without any standing out. I'm pleased to have seen the show so as to appreciate the discussions it has provoked, but on a personal level it disappointed me. During his promotional phase Neilson made claims that new theatre should be more "entertaining" (like Dissocia) but I'm afraid this didn't reach my entertainment threshold and I was neither amused nor particularly thought-provoked. Shame really.

1 Heckle

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed Dissocia - saw it at Dundee Rep at the start of its tour. Apparently Neilson toned down the first act as in the original production he felt that audiences were having far too much fun in the first 'half'.

I enjoyed the concept of trying to find a missing hour, and the 'Alice in Wonderland' logic.

But I agree that the meat was in the second half. I was happy that Lisa was clearly going to go back to Dissocia in the future, and than I knew that I should not be too happy about that really.

I got a script at the Dundee performance which also contained the script of "Realism" which I saw at last year's Edinburgh Festival. (Good play, and had a very very rude scene on a lavatory, and one of the strangest endings I have seen in a theatre).