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The Wonderful World of Dissocia, Red Hedgehog Theatre

Anthony Neilson

Directed by Will Seaward
Pros: Brilliant, comic acting. Very funny at times.
Cons: Long first half. Some concepts feel a little underdeveloped.
Our Verdict: If you are willing to embrace the absurd this is a tenner well spent because the acting is hilarious and excellent.
Courtesy of Clatterhouse Theatre
This was my first visit to the Red Hedgehog; I loved it. The atmosphere is everything you’d expect from a small, independently run theatre. Just a door in Highgate, you step off the busy street into a dark, little world which seems blissfully disconnected from the outside. Everything is slightly cobbled together and timeworn, but at the same time all very welcoming and obviously well-loved. It’s the perfect place to showcase raw, emerging theatrical talent – which is exactly what it’s doing with this production.
The Wonderful World of Dissocia, presented by Clatterhouse Theatre Company, was originally written for the Edinburgh International Festival in 2004 by Anthony Neilson as an exploration of mental illness. It follows the journey of Lisa, a troubled girl suffering from a dissociative disorder. Lisa becomes convinced, by a Swiss professor (who happens to come calling), that her world is in disarray due the loss of an hour following a complicated connecting flight. On the suggestion of the professor, Lisa embarks on a trip into the ludicrous world of Dissocia. Her aim is to claim back her lost hour, and restore balance to her life.
What follows is a comic, colourful, abruptly disjointed and occasionally macabre jaunt of a first half into an upside down world. Lisa encounters an array of outlandish characters spouting nonsense. It seems like she is the only sane individual for miles. As its marketing suggests, the piece is reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Dorothy’s trip into Oz but is much more sinister and adult. Seeking her lost hour she meets singing polar bears (why not?) and ‘Insecurity guards’ – who hilariously hate every inch of themselves – and barely escapes the definitely undesired advances of a predatory goat, which is quite an unpleasant departure from the more cosy worlds of Wonderland and Oz. All the way along she is haunted by the mysterious black dog who rules over and terrifies the inhabitants of Dissocia.
The idea that Lisa is the only logical being in this world turns out to be irony. The whole first half is seemingly just a meaningless exercise of the absurd. The second half, grey and realistic, shows her imprisoned in hospital for days on end, begrudgingly taking her pills but knowingly aware of the inevitability that she’ll visit Dissocia again; despite the efforts of those around her.
The best thing about this production, by far, is the acting. There is no weak link in the small company of actors who portray Lisa, the band of weirdo’s she meets in Dissocia and later, the much more realistic characters of Lisa’s loved ones and medical carers. The energy they bring to the stage is infectious – they are clearly loving every minute. Carefully directed, by Will Seaward, to make the best of the intimate stage space and limited budget available, their choral work is tight, and their comic timing is bang on. In fact it is very funny at points, and the characterisation is clever and effortlessly convincing.
There are some caveats about this piece. Given the premise, it’s purposefully difficult to follow and disjointed in the first half but there a few bits – mainly the allusions to what you may do with a lost hour – which are left hanging and feel a little underdeveloped. The first half is also very long compared to the second. This clearly serves the purpose to show the realistic second half in contrast to the first. It does mean though that the first half drags a little, and possibly could have benefitted from being cut down slightly.
Ultimately though, this production showcases the raw potential of the entire company, who are all extremely talented. Arguably, it’s the moments, and comic delivery of these moments, in this play which make it excellent rather than the overall storyline. For these moments, it’s most definitely worth seeing.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Wonderful World of Dissocia will run at the Red Hedgehog Theatre from 17-28th September 2013. 
Box Office: 020 8348 5050 or book online at www.theredhedgehog.co.uk.

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