Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Hysteria, Battersea Arts Centre

Review: Hysteria, Battersea Arts Centre

Written for Culture Wars, 27.03.2009

Has evolution led to this? A dinner date so tremulous that it makes one long for the good old days of hunter-gathering and ritual mating. Modern life, it would appear, is not only rubbish, but dangerously close to extinction through neurosis. We totter in high heels, we quiver in toilets and we tremble with nervous laughter, desperate to avoid the pending awkward silence. Welcome to the 21st Century, where only the fitful survive.

Thanks to its gorgeous sense of magical realism, whereby minute moments in time expand into crippling fantasies, Hysteria maxes out the volume on the everyday anxieties that resonate at a frequency familiar to us all. As the niggling pressures of love and work, health and happiness threaten to become overwhelmingly catatonic, it induces an equal measure of laughter and sweat in its audience. We see ourselves, our hopes and fears, our frailties and our coping strategies reflected with such savage honesty that, just as for the piece’s inhabitants, the only possible response is the fine line between hilarity and hysteria itself.

While we may be over-accustomed to the gaucheness of the restaurant scenario, the addition of Lucinka Eisler’s androgynous waiter proves exactly the ingredient to improve the recipe. In Eisler’s obsessive compulsive clown there is a satisfying mix of Hitchcock, Pinter and Woody Allen with a nod to the two soups of Julie Walters thrown in for good measure. Her ceremonial laying of the table so as to stave off apocalypse verges of comic genius.

Equally necessary in surpassing the situational comedy is the interspersed lecture diagnosing “the modern condition”, which combines fanciful jargon (enforced ecopraxia, anyone?) with absurd non-science fit for Brasseye.

However, it is in the sheer skill and harmonization of all its individual elements that Hysteria excels. Katharine Williams’ lighting and Carolyn Downing’s sound do wonders for the surreal shifts of both time and mood. Moreover, Eisler, Guilia Innocenti and Ben Lewis perform the piece to perfection. Every beat is hit with split second timing and every movement, exquisitely pronounced and punctuated.

If there is a shortfall, it is the general feeling of slightness that begs Lecoq’s question as to whether the clown can ever pack a real political punch. However, for something quite so beautifully formed it hardly matters. Hysteria will have you laughing all the way to psychatrist’s couch.

Photograph: Joseph Alford

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