The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings


SEARCH CurtainUp



NEWS (Etcetera)



Los Angeles






Free Updates
NYC Weather
A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
The Talking Cure
by Lizzie Loveridge

Precisely because the world is full of enemies, looking for any way they can devise to discredit us. And the minute they see us abandon the firm ground of sexual theory, to wallow in the black mud of superstition, they'll pounce.
-- Sigmund Freud
The Talking Cure
Jodhi May as Sabine Spielrein and Ralph Fiennes as Carl Jung
(Photo: Ivan Kyncl)
Set in the early years of the twentieth century, Christopher Hampton's new play The Talking Cure deals with the founding fathers of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (Dominic Rowan) and Carl Jung (Ralph Fiennes). Centering his play on Jung's relationships, Hampton looks at the issues which initially united these two pioneering psychiatrists and that which eventually divided them and took them off into other areas of investigation. Each of them founded a branch of the psychoanalytic profession, the divides of which remain today, leaving us asking "Is your analyst a Freudian? Or a Jungian?"

I cannot recall ever having seen a play on the subject of Jung, although of course they have been some about Freud and many about psychiatry, from Marat Sade to Equus. The discovery of the letters of Sabine Spielrein (Jodhi May), a Russian woman, has inspired Hampton's play (an earlier screenplay on the subject has not yet been filmed).Spielrein was Jung's first patient, the one on whom he tried out Freud's methods , then called "psychanalysis".

Jung and Freud connect and Freud seems to want Jung as his heir. Their eventual disagreement is prompted by Freud's craving respectability for his profession. He criticises Jung's addiction to mysticism and emphasis on the collective unconscious, rather than the psycho-sexual nature of Freud's theories.

Spielrein came to Jung in Zurich when she was 18. An hysteric, from a large Jewish family, she twitches and jerks through her story of her father's disciplinarian excesses and the sexual excitement these incidents aroused in her. The Talking Cure details her treatment and by Jung, her recovery, her working as his assistant, her sexual affair with him, and her becoming an influential psychoanalyst who worked with Freud himself. Hampton tells us that Spielrein may have inspired Jungian theories of the "anima", the feminine aspect of a man's personality and the "animus", the complementary trait in women. The affair also raises issues of professional malpractice when the doctor-patient relationship is abused.

Fiennes takes himself rather seriously, a necessary quality for the self absorbed Jung, whose many affairs with his female patients appear to be consciously known by his rich and perpetually pregnant, wife Emma (Nancy Carroll). Jodhi May is superb as the maladjusted Sabine, the patient maturing into the woman who had a successful psychoanalytic career, only to be gunned down by a Nazi soldier in 1942. Due to the tragic death of Jimmy Hazeldine who had been playing Freud up to two days before the press night, Dominic Rowan plays both Freud and Otto Gross, another patient turned analyst, Rowan's anarchic Gross who uses separate nostrils for opium and cocaine, is an intense, energetic but comic highpoint. His Freud twinkles with amusement, non-plussing the sober Jung at their early meeting, which we are told lasted thirteen hours.

Tim Hatley's imposing triple floored set is almost too large for the Cottesloe, until recently, the smallest space at the National Theatre. The lowest level, Jung's Swiss hospital, has a Rachel Whiteread type sculpted bookcase, books pale with white powder and an all white backdrop of office cabinet drawers, many of them partially open, a desk, a hospital bed. The middle level changes from Freud's contrasting colourful bookshelves to Sabine Speilrein's bedroom or Jung's home. The top level becomes the gangway of a transatlantic ocean liner for Jung and Freud's trip to America. All three levels are linked by an iron stair. Howard Davies ensures that we are given natural, credible performances, with Fiennes almost underplaying the cerebral Jung. Freud wears the old fashioned frock coat, Jung a more modern suit, dressing to reflect their individual era.

The Talking Cure seems to skate over the intellectual issues. It is a potted, encyclopedic and ultimately unsatisfactory guide to psychoanalysis. The discussions between Freud and Jung are either intentionally humorous as Freud has a rather jokey manner or it's because dreams about huge logs, which Freud says represent Jung's penis, inspire laughter. The early scenes between Jung and Spielrein are good, the wordless love scene is lyrical and erotic but later scenes are so sentimental, almost melodramatic that I felt a bit as if I were watching a bad version of Jung with the Wind. Ultimately, the play tells us more about Jung's affairs than his ideas, the freedom he searches for in his sexual affairs. This sexual history has to be the least interesting aspect of Jung's bequest to the science of understanding the mind.

The Talking Cure has been sold out since before it opened but some day seats and standing tickets are available, on sale from 10am each day but the queue forms earlier. Returns are on sale from 6pm at the Box Office.

LINKS to Curtain Up reviews of Christopher Hampton's plays
Tales From Hollywood
Les Liaisons Dangereuses

The Talking Cure
Written by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Howard Davies

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Jodhi May
With: Dominic Rowan, Nancy Carroll, Valerie Spelman, Sean Jackson, Alice Sandelson/Chloe Smyth, Samantha Thompson
Designer: Tim Hatley
Lighting Designer: Peter Mumford
Music: Dominic Muldowney
Sound: Christopher Shutt
Running time: Two hours twenty five minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking to 5th February 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 22nd January 2003 Performance at the Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre, Upper Ground, London SE1 (Tube Station: Waterloo)
Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook
London Sketchbook

Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers

At This Theater Cover
At This Theater

Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam

The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century

metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

The Broadway Theatre Archive


Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from