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A CurtainUp London Review
The Wonderful World of Dissocia
The play falls into two halves: the first act is a wild, whirlwind trip through an updated Alice in Wonderland type world to a place called Dissocia, peopled with freaks like the insecurity guards, a lost property office for those who have lost amongst other things their inhibitions, their sense of humour, and those charming word plays based on simple logic. The second half takes all the colour and noise and fun out of the set and places our heroine in a stark hospital ward, sterile, unstimulating but presumed safe. The point Neilson seems to be making is that the mad world may be preferable to the medicated one. In fact at one point when one of her visitors complains that Lisa (Christine Entwisle) has not been taking her medication, she defends her choice by comparing herself with ancient sailors seduced by the sirens.
The first act is clever and witty, but at five times the length of the shorter second act, it might start to pall as the bizarre aspects become something of a list of superficial one liner jokes. Just as the audience starts to regret not being on the same druggie wavelength as the characters, Neilson achieves a paradigm shift which makes us gasp at his power to contrast with what has come before. It is this second act which packs the power punch, as we identify with Lisa, incarcerated at the mercy of doctors, nurses and complaining visitors, the only sounds in her world those of footsteps echoing along the lino-floored corridor. It is this skilled contrast which makes me marvel at this play, at how effectively the playwright allows the audience to identify with people with mental health problems without being merely depressed. The bipolarity of The Wonderful World of Dissocia speaks for itself.
Christine Entwisle as the central figure Lisa starts the play improbably looking for an hour she lost on a Transatlantic flight. She first encounters the Swiss gentleman, Victor Hesse (Barnaby Power) who is representing the company that made her malfunctioning watch. As he asks for a glass of piss, Lisa explains that people who drink urine for beneficial effects, usually drink their own, but it is the first good laugh of the show and a signpost to Neilson's imaginative, surreal humour. The induction into Dissocia is by taking the oath with the silly ceremony of the Oathtaker and his bizarre entourage and singing the Dissocia anthem which ends with a bomb blast and the citizens lying on the floor twitching as if having an epileptic seizure.
Christine Entwisle's wide eyed performance is an integral part of the success of the play. She can look kooky and astonished in the first half, swept along by events and in the second, is very moving as she lies in her hospital bed, sad, confused, restricted. The rest of the cast each play up to five parts with differentiation and individually are barely recognisable in the second act.
The playwright is also the director and his playtext has clear and detailed instructions for the play's environment. In Dissocia, the stage is raked and covered in patterned carpet, busy and curiously slanted, the costumes are loud and colourful. In the hospital, a pallor dominates the scene. I liked the doctor scenes which are cut off when after he speaks a line, the lights are "snapped off", a sudden end to any communication with the patient. Lisa ends the play holding a toy polar bear, her only source of comfort and a reminder of the Dissocia life sized polar bear who sang to her, "Who'll hear you whisper goodbye?"
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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