Picture the scene: Hampstead, London, on a summer’s afternoon in 1938. Salvador Dali visits an ageing, exhausted, sick Sigmund Freud in his home for tea. This actually happened: Freud had fled Nazi-occupied Austria and settled in London, where he intended to spend his last days in peaceful contemplation.
Terry Johnson, one of the UK’s most celebrated contemporary playwrights, takes this bizarre real life encounter and turns it into an explosive two-hour farce that is Hysteria (named after the Freudian psychological term). A comedy of chaos unfolds as these two brilliant, uniquely original minds collide. The bewildered Freud has some explaining to do and questions to answer, for when Dali pays him a visit that afternoon, he discovers a naked woman in the closet, Jessica, a woman desperately trying to make sense of her past so that she can make a future for herself.
First performed in London in 1993, Hysteria has become an acknowledged modern classic, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 1994. But don’t be fooled: Hysteria is so much more than a hilarious farce. It’s a moving psychological drama, drawing on subconscious fears and long-buried repressions. Touching on fear of dying and the present reality of Auschwitz, sexual abuse and trauma, the underlying pain bubbles away never far from the surface. Catch Hysteria presented by London Classic Theatre at Durham’s Gala Theatre from Thursday 2nd – Saturday 4th March: don’t be surprised if you find yourself simultaneously wiping away tears of laughter and sadness.