The Wonderful World of Dissocia
National Theatre of Scotland production
Royal Court Theatre Downstairs
Leading Scottish playwright, Anthony Neilson might just be in the process of creating a new genre of theatre. He was one of the leading exponents of In-Yer-Face Theatre when that was most fashionable but now he is specialising in what might reasonably be christened In-Yer-Head Theatre.
For programming reasons, your reviewer was able to see Neilson's 2006 Edinburgh International Festival production, Realism, but could not attend the premiere of The Wonderful World of Dissocia the previous year.
These are clearly companion pieces and, whichever the order, having seen one will greatly inform the other. It is therefore to be hoped that a London theatre, possibly the Royal Court, will import Realism very soon.
The odds on that must be enhanced by the National Theatre of Scotland imprimatur that both plays now carry. That infant theatre is fast becoming the most exciting around, which is a great compliment to director Vicky Featherstone and her team. It is also an acknowledgement of the presence in Scotland of prolific writers with the strength and confidence of the likes of Neilson, David Greig, who heads this year's International Festival offerings, Gregory Burke and David Harrower, with talented young pretenders snapping at their heels.
With her northern accent, dark hair and DMs, the thirtysomething Lisa Jones is an unlikely Alice to inhabit a Wonderland. However, for the first half of this play that is exactly what she does.
There may be parallels with Lewis Carroll but initially, it seems that the drugs fuelling Lisa's journey are far less benign than whatever took Alice on her travels. There is already a hint of something discordant in the opening vision of a woman listlessly playing an air on an E string until it snaps.
She then discovers from a Freudian Swiss watch repairer that the problems of her life are the consequence of the loss of an hour when she returned from New York as the clocks were springing forward, as they did the week before the London opening.
A lift then transports Lisa to a series of disjointed, rather episodic adventures in a colourful dream world that we gather from a catchy tune, surely borrowed from the Marx Brothers, is Dissocia.
The two primal forces in this filmic land designed by Miriam Buether, are the absent Queen Sarah, who must inevitably turn out to be our heroine, and the Black Dog King, a close relative of the terrifying beasts that Winston Churchill strove so hard to escape. Indeed, it is the Black Dog of depression who eventually rules over The Wonderful World of Dissocia.
Lisa's picaresque adventures are generally entertaining and witty. They include self-conscious in-security guards, a real live scapegoat, a café full of eccentric neurotics; and Jane, a council employee who drives a soapbox Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and is a professional victim.
This all revs up entertainingly into an interval that forms a dramatic watershed. When the post-drinks curtain rises, it shows us the comatose Lisa in a hospital bed. Gradually over a series of determinedly anti-theatrical scenes, possibly intended to oppose those seen earlier, we see her dosed up on the medication that she had ignored and returning to a bland normality with her dull partner, Vince.
The ensemble cast, well led by Christine Entwistle as Lisa, play numerous roles with great commitment and wit.
The Wonderful World of Dissocia is a remarkably clever work that crawls right into the mind of a young woman suffering from mental illness. As he did in Realism, Anthony Neilson, who also directs, manages to bring to the stage the kind of free association and wildness of human thought that is generally the realm of the novelist. It will be interesting to see if these two plays spawn a genre and indeed, whether anyone else has the ability to follow in Neilson's footsteps.
This may not be an easy play to watch and it cannot expand as it might wish to on the rather cramped Downstairs stage at the Royal Court. It is though both unusual and very rewarding and deserves to sell out the whole of its relatively short run.
Running until 21st April
Reviewer: Philip Fisher