By Scott Hurley
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
Drawing a huge amount of inspiration from Alice in Wonderland, The Wonderful World of Dissocia sees Lisa transported into a land of fantasy and wonderment, the beauty of which begins to crack the more it is explored.
It’s not often that you see a cast and crew who attack a text with such gusto as those who worked on Anthony Neilson’s play. The show is wildly ambitious in its use of film, lighting, music and performance, and it’s difficult to figure out where to start. Perhaps the multi-roling of the performances which sees the stellar cast move through the wild and wacky to the deadly serious. Or Sally McCain’s gorgeous and wholly appropriate live score. You cannot fault any of the cast or crew’s dedication but ultimately, The Wonderful World of Dissocia is a conceptual misfire.
The show’s downfall is not the product of those who worked on it. Directors Nick Newman and Sean Byrne have used every trick in the book to make the show work and, although the use of Katie Mitchell’s technique of filming the action live and projecting it on a screen is superfluous, they must be commended for their mastery of the technical elements of the show and their ability to direct performances.
The precise problem with the show is Anthony Neilson’s disastrous script. Neilson throws everything at the wall and nothing sticks
The precise problem with the show is Anthony Neilson’s disastrous script. Neilson throws everything at the wall and nothing sticks, his comic and dramatic misjudgements (the worst of which is a deeply unpleasant and pointless rape sequence) scuppered the show’s practitioners before they even started, and I cannot stress enough how much this company should be commended for their valiant attempt at staging this show.
Neilson sets his play into two acts, the second wildly different from the first. At the start he goes full steam ahead and races through a bizarre concoction of bombastic, psychedelic character moments that Lisa (an anagram of ‘Alis’) has no agency in, an issue with Charles Dodgson’s original work. Unfortunately, he then tries to reign it back in the second act, killing the momentum and bringing the play to a deathly pace which runs a very short thirty minutes, but feels like an endurance test.
The play feels very much like it should be incredibly meaningful, but the script fails to delve into any of the issues it purports to tackle. When Neilson decides to reveal all, he has Lisa trapped in a hospital ward taking ghastly pills that demotivate her and act as an emotional suppressant. It’s desperate to be important but it seems to me that he is simply using this as an excuse to make sense of Dissocia. This completely invalidates the idea that the first act is supposed to be meaningless, and shows it for the cheap, potshot attempt at shocking an audience that it is.
The Wonderful World of Dissocia is running in repertoire with Pomona as part of assessed work on the BA Theatre: Writing, Directing and Performance programme. Tickets are available online and at the TFTV foyer.