Theatre review: The Wonderful World of Dissocia

The Wonderful World of Dissociae
Written and directed by Anthony Neilson
The Royal Court Theatre, London
Touring until 26 May (see details below)


First shown in Edinburgh in 2004, this highly original play presents the thoughts of a woman with mental illness, writes Mark Drinkwater.

Lisa undertakes a journey to find a “missing hour” in an effort to restore balance in her life – lost time being a feature of dissociative disorder. Her trip to the surreal world of Dissocia takes her to a wild and farcical place inhabited by “insecurity” guards, singing bears and flying cars that invariably lead to darkly comic happenings.

Reminiscent of Dorothy in Oz and Alice in Wonderland, Lisa’s journey to an absurd, unearthly world is not a new construct. But what makes Anthony Neilson’s play extraordinary is the polar transformation the show takes in the second act.

Gone is the raucous, rapid-paced, technicolour whimsy of the first act. In its place is a bleak naturalistic set and minimal dialogue, as it is revealed that Lisa’s magical voyage was a in fact a delusional decline that results in her incarceration in a psychiatric hospital.

Like the condition it portrays, this play has multiple personalities. The marvellous fantasia of Dissocia contrasts hugely with the depressing, cold realism of life on a psychiatric ward.

This play engages with the audience in an accessible way, without being patronising, and manages to entertain while sympathetically dealing with serious mental health issues. It is unlike anything else I’ve seen in a mainstream theatre – it is wonderful. Quite wonderful.

Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London

The Wonderful World of Dissocia plays:

Oxford Playhouse, 1-5 May
Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry 8-12 May
York Theatre Royal, 22-26 May

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