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Review: Hysteria, Theatre Royal Bath
Runs until August 18
Everyone has heard of Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dali. Most of us would never have thought that they could be considered funny - eccentric yes, but surely not comedians?
Think again: the imagined meeting between the two, as seen through the eyes of playwright Terry Johnson, is by turns - and what twists and turns - hilarious, sad, thought-provoking and charming.
Set in the study of Freud's London home, where he spent his dying years as a refugee from the Nazi annexation of his beloved native Austria - a faithful on-stage recreation of what is now a museum - it revolves around his attempts to make sense of a confrontation with reality which brings as many unpleasant truths to the surface as those which lay bubbling under the conscious minds of his many troubled patients.
Sir Antony Sher is as magnificent as you would expect as Freud, his European Jewish accent and mannerisms adding to the many comic elements, as he struggles, as would anyone, to cope with the uninvited guests in his real-life home and the recesses of his mind. The little bearded man with the volatile temper comes across clearly as a person, not simply as a caricature.
After all, who would not feel panic when an unknown, and rather lovely, lady demands entry to one's house and begins to remove all her garments as a form of blackmail?
The entry of Dali, desperate to know what Freud thinks of his work - even more desperate when he gets the answer - provides much of the comedy, as Will Keen brings out all the painter's Spanish mannerisms, machismo and magnificence. Curiously for the character who appears maddest from the start, in the end his is the sanest voice on stage. David Horovitch provides solid unerpinning reassurance as Freud's doctor, while the disturbed young lady whose search for knowledge sets the plot in motion is dazzlingly played by Indira Varma.
Hysteria is a brilliant choice for the summer season, light enough to be perfect for a summer evening's entertainment but weighty enough to leave you feeling you have witnessed proper theatre.
Perhaps not for those easily offended by occasional nudity: surprisingly, the audience on Tuesday seemed rather older than I would have expected, given that psychology is such a popular subject for A level study.
It is certainly not, as one elderly audience member remarked before she left early on, 'a perfectly dreadful play'. Go and see for yourself.
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