The Wonderful World of Dissocia
Written & Directed by Anthony Neilson
National Theatre of Scotland
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, and touring
Hot on the heels of last summer's Realism comes this revival of Anthony Neilson's play The Wonderful World of Dissocia. Similar in form to Realism but completely different in its approach to the human psyche, Dissocia has a feel that will appeal to those audience members whose sense of theatrical delight tingles at the phrase, 'Alice in Wonderland through the eyes of a psychotic.' (As if Lewis Caroll wasn't psychologically imbalanced enough!)
That aside, and for a play about a woman's descent into psychosis, Dissocia is surprisingly bright in its first act. The land of Dissocia, where Lisa (Christine Entwisle) must travel to recover an hour she lost while flying over the Atlantic, is the best kind of cheerful fairytale world - the sort where menace and cold logic lurk around every corner. From the moment she meets the Tweedle-dee and Tweele-dum figures of the Insecurity Guards (Jack James and Matthew Pidgeon) to the frightening intensity (which quickly turns to warm welcome) of the Oathtakers (Alan Francis and his attendants) straight through to an encounter with a goat (who soon deserves all the blame he looks to have heaped upon himself) and the ultimate appearance of the Black Dog King (Jack again), Lisa's travels through Dissocia are harrowing, but exciting.
The opposite is true of act two; where the first act was a delightful whirl of wonderment, the second act crashes viewers back into the reality of Lisa's need for close medical treatment. Neilson's stated intent was to make audience members understand how Lisa could long to remain in Dissocia; all the elements of the second act's production drive us to not only understand, but agree.
The cast does a tremendous job of creating larger-than-life characters in the first act; this is part of what makes the second act feel as if it drags. Here again, Neilson turns a clever trick by having the second act run to a much shorter time than the first. While it may be only third of the length of act one, the impact of the dull and sterile mental ward where Lisa is recovering drags the audience into sobriety; it also lasts just long enough for a viewer to appreciate the hopelessness of her life without impacting on our enjoyment of the story.
The two extremes of set and sound are executed in expert fashion by Nick Powell (sound) and Miriam Buether (design). The environment these two create in act one (with the assistance of Lighting designer Chahine Yavroyan) is so welcoming and warm that when one returns to the auditorium after the interval, the monochrome florescence of the mental ward is like a sharp shock.
Overall, Dissocia is a surprisingly strong piece, and one well worth the time and money the National Theatre has put into reviving the production. Having toured its way through Glasgow, Dundee, London, Plymouth, Oxford, Coventry and York, it has one final stop in Newcastle Upon Tyne - which leave only a handful more opportunities to see this amazing, delightful, and dark piece of theatre.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody