University of Adelaide Theatre Guild. Little Theatre. 5 May 2023
The Wonderful World of Dissocia is an incredibly vivid, heartwarming and heart-rending - and where useful, quirky and humorous - exploration into an illness of the mind. In the program notes, director Tom Filsell openly opines his sojourn with getting back on track dodging his own dark spaces. If you don’t think you are on a spectrum of some sort, you are probably kidding yourself and missing opportunities to empathise with those who have been nudged a little more along the continuum than you. Filsell has done a great service by offering Adelaide this opportunity to forgive ourselves, understand each other and heal.
Scottish playwright Anthony Neilson has a reputation for confrontational theatre and has written enough plays over 30 years to fill a computer screen. …Dissocia is smack in the middle in 2004 and won the Critics’ Award for Theatre in Scotland for best play.
The production might be best enjoyed if you just go, it’s great, take my word for it, and revel in the reveal of the clever writing and brilliant performances. STOP READING NOW AND BUY A TICKET!
However, if you have the mental condition where you must know exactly what you are in for and take no risks, read on.
In the first half, we get a look inside Lisa’s head ala Samuel Beckett, only way more interesting and less stodgy and esoteric. Having taken Psychology 101, I diagnosed Lisa with a psychosis and couldn’t understand her dissocation from the colourful mayhem going on in there. D’oh! Dissociation. I get it. In the second half, we go through the looking glass into Lisa’s rollercoaster ride of on-the-drugs and off-the-drugs, the hated side effects and the even worse outcomes for loved ones. The condition looks rather fun compared to subjugation through medication.
The huges success of this production is the copious workshopping that was undertaken to realise Neilson’s script with scant stage instructions. The playwright worked with actors in originating the play and the same research, reflection, self-examination and spontaneity has been fetched by this director and cast, and the ensemble work is joyous and thoughtful.
In the first half, Filsell and actor Nadia Talotta recreate a sort of Dorothy in Oz or Alice in Wonderland with Lisa as she travels places populated with fantastical people and experiences, some of them scary. And did we ever think these young women had dissocia? The set is full of lighting trickery, highly styled costumes, outrageous props and actors delighting in expressive abstraction. Lisa’s dissocia has her respond with the equanimity of Mario in the original Super Mario digital game - trips up, dusts off and keeps going without emotional engagement. Not really in the real world. Talotta is a Jedi warrior of performance – a NIDA graduate, and it shows.
The second half is in contrast, sober, or more like the morning after a binge – in the realm of morbid hospitalization. The theatre expediency of doubling up roles for actors carries a strong message of how the brain works its dreamlike imagery in this show. Using the Oz analogy, the scarecrow, the cowardly lion and the tin man have real life persona.
Sound design by Nick Butterfield, Abi Steele’s scenic design and prop making, Gillian Cordell’s costumes, and Stephen Dean’s lights are all necessary goods contributing to a fulsome theatre experience.
The workshopping resulted in super realistic performances when naturalism is required manifested in playful banter, overtalking and speechless signalling. The script is thusly reinvented by the team. I was especially moved when Paul Pacillo as Lisa’s partner and Talotta as Lisa both realise the impact of unhealthy behaviour on each other - the one inside trying to look out and the other outside trying to look in. A moment of great pathos that summed up what this production was trying to achieve. Bravo!
When: 4 to 14 May
Where: The Little Theatre