Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Hysteria

Lucinka Eisler, Giulia Innocenti and Ben Lewis
Inspector Sands and Stamping Ground Theatre
BAC
(2007)

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If you've ever had one of those first dates where both parties are initially on their best behaviour, yet despite everyone's best efforts a shouting match ensues, then Hysteria will ring a few bells.

This play received a Total Theatre Award at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006 and is inspired by T S Eliot's poem of the same name that describes a woman's out-of-place hysterical laughter and the subsequent unease it causes. It is written and devised by its three actors but its impact owes as much to the sound design (Carolyn Downing and Adrienne Quartly) and lighting design (Katharine Williams) as it does to the script. From the off-stage voice at the beginning where a woman can't get her joke out because she's laughing too much, to the disembodied male voice prophesying the end of the world, the audience's aural faculties are teased and tickled as well as their visual ones.

The play is very well observed. We've all had those excruciating moments where the over-solicitous waiter insists on pushing your chair so close to the table that you're uncomfortably wedged in, or spends ages opening a bottle of water thus forcing uncomfortable silences. The actors played these moments to perfection. Both Lucinka Eisler and Giulia Innocenti studied at the Jacques Lecoq school in Paris and it's refreshing to see mime used to such good effect that the props were almost secondary.

Ben Lewis had an energetic part to play as the social scientist and researcher who lectures on modern neuroses yet displays plenty of neurotic tendencies himself. Despite his knowledge of the human condition, he was unable to control the more basic human emotions such as jealousy. The frenetic action at the table is interspersed with his sombre lectures. Lewis used members of the audience as his students; handling this well, especially when they didn't always react in the way he was expecting.

Innocenti gave a multi-layered performance as the events manager: flirty, eccentric and on the edge. Her valiant turn as a banana eating fiend is both disturbing and funny. Eisler as the waiter observing how the proceedings are degenerating into madness was cool and inscrutable.

It's a tautly written interpretation of how modern society may be teetering on the brink of extinction and comforting to note how Eliot had the same concerns almost a century ago.

Running until 29th April

Reviewer: Bronagh Taggart