Leading Scottish Playwright Anthony Neilson is perhaps one of the most influential figures in the 1990s movement of In-Yer-Face theatre. Raw and gritty, these plays are presented as a vulgar, shocking and confrontational way of immersing and affecting their audiences.
The location, a small fringe pub, Bread and Roses, sets the scene. Through a twisting set of staircases, you arrive at a small, intimate theatre space. Fifty individual chairs block the stage, and there in front of you, less than a metre away, the play comes to life. The staging of this play, allows one to have the feeling of voyeurism, to become deeply immersed in the world of Dissocia. It is this type of immersive theatre that does not rely on extravagant lighting or staging to carry the story, but rather the actors use the only props they have, which is their bodies and voices.
Neilson’s “Wonderful World of Dissocia” tells the story of our heroine Lisa Jones (Robyn Hoedemaker), a young woman who has lapsed into a state of psychosis. Detached from reality, Lisa is informed by a Swiss watchmaker (Michael Watson-Gray) that she has lost an hour of her life, and in order to restore balance to her life she must travel to the world of Dissocia to retrieve it.
It is here that we are treated to carnival-esque narratives, that parallel an Alice In Wonderland for grownups. In Dissocia we are introduced to a myriad of characters; the comic “insecurity guards”, council worker Jane and her flying car (or in our version, a flying shopping trolley), singing polar bears, and a farcical “lost” lost property. These brilliant characters give a vivid characterisation to not only the absurd nature, but also the physically and sexually violent features of psychosis. The sexual nature of this play is confronting, and it probably should be rated older than its current 15+ standing. Behind all of this fantastical comedy is the backstory of the war that ravages Dissocia. The Black Dog King (the forces of depression) seeks to usurp Queen Sarah of the House Tonin (serotonin, a common chemical used to treat depression). It is revealed to us that our heroine is in fact Queen Sarah.
In the second act, we have a jarring shift that finds Lisa now confined to a psychiatric hospital. There is now a revolving door of doctors and nurses who force feed Lisa medication, and of whom few try to identify with her. Told from Lisa’s perspective we are given a realistic insight into the loneliness and numbness one may feel when forced to be “normal”. As we conclude, the Black Dog is revealed to be Lisa’s partner Vince, who begs her to continue taking her medication and thus ending the world of Dissocia.
The cast of Dissocia is simply brilliant. With an outstanding Robyn Hoedemaker as Lisa, she is supported by an ensemble cast of the up-and-coming. Special mention must be made of Sally O’Leary as Jane, whose portrayal of the perpetual victim, and other supporting characters was mesmerizing. Michael Watson-Gray almost stole the show (almost) from Robyn Hoedemaker with his portrayal of the Swiss watchmaker and “insecurity guard”.
This play dares to be different. Dissocia is a remarkable piece of work that portrays the mind of a young woman suffering from mental illness. Performed for over ten years, it shows no signs of slowing in momentum.
Review by Lisa Shaw
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISSOCIA by Anthony Neilson
Bread and Roses Theatre
68 Clapham Manor Street
Clapham, SW4 6DZ
21st July – 25th July & 28th July – August 1st at 7.30pm
(1 hour 30 minutes including interval)
“Lisa Jones has lost something. An hour. Ever since, her life has seemed off-kilter and empty. To recover her hour she must journey to the wonderful world of Dissocia. But Dissocia is at war with the evil armies of the Black Dog King, and their beloved Queen is missing. Not only must Lisa find her hour – she must save Dissocia.
A heady cocktail of dark and absurd humour mixed with sobering pain, Anthony Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia was originally devised at LAMDA in 2002, before being produced at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2004 where it won the Critics’ Award for Theatre in Scotland.”
TumbleDry Theatre’s first full length production, The Wonderful World of Dissocia explores Lisa Jones’ struggle with dissociative identity disorder. Writer Anthony Neilson starkly presents the antithetical perceptions of mental illness: that of the sufferer, and that of society. He confronts the question of whether a mental illness can simply be medicated away, and if so, at what cost to the sufferer?
The world of Dissocia is a dark subversion of Alice’s Wonderland, inhabited by oddball characters both whimsical and dangerous. It is an ensemble piece with a strong focus on multi-rolling, with puppetry, songs, and an original score all used to create the fantastical world. Once Lisa leaves Dissocia and returns to face her loved ones in the real world, we see the effects her illness has on those around her.
Director: John Rushton
Producers: Maxwell Tyler & Josh Littlewood
Writer: Anthony Neilson
Cast: Robyn Hoedemaker, Christopher Cohen, Ryan Lane, Alyssa Noble, Sally O’Leary, Maxwell Tyler, Michael Watson-Gray
Thursday 30th July 2015