Opportunities to see controversial plays such as this are rare. Uncommercial and testing to audiences they are hardly seen on the regular theatre circuit and confined to easy-to-miss short runs in fringe theatres. A pity indeed, given that they very often explore deep issues and tackle sensitive topics that we are, most of us, otherwise protected from resulting in a unique theatrical experience for both audiences and actors alike.
Anthony Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia fits the bill completely. The play explores the emotional and psychological impact of suffering from a dissociative disorder, through the eyes of Lisa; taking us first through her imaginary world and then to the reality of her situation in a closely monitored hospital ward. Think of journey stories such as the Wizard of Oz and Alice In Wonderland combined with sex, violence and hallucinations and you are on the right lines. The script, although a little clumsy and unpolished in places, is at once funny, disturbing and relentlessly brutal, and in order to enable plays like this to engage with an audience there has to be a similar mix of vision, nerve and sensitivity in the way they are handled. Director Will Jackson and his team have fully achieved this in this production at University of Birmingham Guild of Students.
Taking on the demanding role of Lisa, Jess Watts never leaves the stage and is a sheer joy to watch. Her honest performance and natural delivery draw the audience in to her situation entirely. The rest of the cast take on numerous roles between them, switching effortlessly between accents and characters as they become the inhabitants of Dissocia. While some characters stand out more than others, each of the 8 strong cast have a particular moment to shine: Becky Hansell gives a hilarious performance as Britney and Matt Johnson both shocks and delights as Goat, while Satya Baskaran and Clare Horrigan bring a touching realism to their roles of Vince and Dot. Impressing throughout Zoe Head is a star in the making, standing out in the company with her clear talent for comedy.
Plays like this require risk-taking and commitment to the consequences. Choosing to stage them needs an all-or-nothing approach! In this instance, credit must be given to all the stage management team (well-deserving of their own bow at the curtain call) for coping with the demands of over 100 props, 50 costumes and having to clear up a stage at the interval of most of these props combined with copious amounts of silly string, confetti and tomato ketchup.
The production would not have succeeded without the teamwork that was evident across both cast and crew, all of whom should be very proud of what they have achieved.
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