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A CurtainUp London Review
The Talking Cure
by Lizzie Loveridge
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
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
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
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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