Wednesday, 1 October 1997

Hysteria by Damien Richardson, Oct 1, 1997

Hysteria by Damien Richardson
at La Mama until Oct 5, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Sept 26, 1997

No matter what name we give them: neurosis, sadness, depression, melancholia, mania - nervous disorders are not to be sneezed at, so why not make theatre about them?

Writer-performer, Damien Richardson has done just this with his solo play, Hysteria, which takes a peculiar angle on the neurotic. Richardson has used factual information and hilariously exaggerated autobiographical details about his own family to create a quirky and engaging piece.

A childhood friend, Fuzz, has grown up with a drug dependence and psychotic symptoms, is a focal character. There are some funny and disturbing moments as we witness Fuzz's disorientation and panic, his fear and naivete.

Dad is a born-again Charismatic Christian wearing Jesus sandals and spouting embarrassing Christian dogma on the perimeter of the cricket field where his son plays. The need for a 'normal' parent is overwhelming.

The fact that hysteria was always associated with women is a fascination to Richardson. He is bemused by the ancient Greeks' notion that the uterus travelled through the body randomly creating hysterical responses in women. He physically transforms himself into a women onstage – which is quite disturbing.

One central character, Genevieve, is drawn from the case studies of the late 19th century French analyst, Charcot, who researched and treated women with hysterical or neurotic tendencies. Freud went to Paris early in his career to study under Charcot at the hospital of Sal Petiere in Paris, the same hospital in which Diana died; an odd congruence.

Genevieve was a depressive who, in her fits, took up "passionate attitudes" which Richardson freezes into dramatic, almost histrionic tableaux. It is ironic and tragic that real disorder can appear almost melodramatic.

Richardson is a performer who takes risks on stage. His material deals with psychosis and taboos: sexual, religious and theatrical. He works directly to the audience, sits down amongst us for a rest and a little comfort during the show and comments on the audience reaction.

He improvises in an almost unnerving way, dropping in and out of character and delving into the psyches of the nervously challenged. He revitalises childhood anecdotes and family behavioural quirks, playing them as comic stories but, in fact, highlighting them with a parallel analysis of neurosis.

This is a funny and cleverly written show with some challenging moments about our delicate psyches.

KATE HERBERT                 

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