Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz, David Bowie’s Labrynth, even – a grown up amalgam of all of these and more awaits the audience of The Wonderful World of Dissocia. That kind of comparison is the easy bit of the review. The rest – explaining this wild, funny, tragic, imaginative play – requires something a bit more.
The latest production from Young Everyman Playhouse (YEP) speaks volumes about the confidence, intent and growing influence of the company. An adult flight of the most absurd fancy that disguises a stark and serious examination of mental health, Anthony Neilson’s 2004 work gives YEP a platform to run riot like never before.
The story begins with Lisa (Niamh McCarthy on the evening of this review), who finds herself suddenly immersed in a bizarre fantasy world on a quest for an hour lost in time on a transatlantic flight. Her surreal journey – representing her dissociative identity disorder – starts comically, as she establishes where she is via interactions with some unusual characters including two hilariously wimpy security guards (Stuie Dagnall and James Bibby) and a curious oathtaker (Charlotte Larkin). Things take a sinister turn when Elliot Davies’s scene-stealing Goat and prim council employee Jane (Isobel Balchin) provide a very darkly humorous administrative approach to crime prevention. Eventually, she ends up in a riotous lost property office headed up by the Peggy Mitchell-esque Britney (Alice Corrigan), bringing things to an unforgettably weird and wonderful climax. Will she ever find her hour?
Neilson’s script bursts with clever puns and laugh-out-loud linguistics – and under the ward of director Chris Tomlinson his Dissocia fizzes and sings with a vibrancy and anarchy that practically hijacks its unsuspecting audience. It’s an absurd – yet extremely absorbing – journey. The first act is more than 90 minutes long but it works. Every element of the production is working at full pelt, and it really shows. Composer Eric Blakemore’s songs and soundscapes are superb; the lighting design (courtesy of YEP’s own technicians) moves the story along with vibrancy and skill; Jasmin Swan’s design shows real attention to detail; the cast includes certainly a few ‘ones to watch’.
The play’s second act – at just over 30 minutes in length – is something of an epilogue, exploring Lisa’s reality; hospitalised and distanced from those who love her. Its necessity is clear, but compared with the rough and tumble of what comes before it is slow to make its point and slightly laboured.
Creating an infinite dream world in a small black box space on a shoestring budget is a challenge for any company; YEP tackles Dissocia with audacity, vigour and a keen sense they are building on the established and celebrated history of the venue’s youth theatre of old.