The subject of Hysteria!, the play written by AJ Taudevin and directed by Clare Duffy, is most appropriately timed given the current publicity surrounding the behaviour of Harvey Weinstein. Everybody’s talking about it, broadcasting about it and hashtagging it – not that it’s especially new news, coming on the back of similar revelations surrounding the leader of the free world. This production was indeed partly inspired by the US election results, and is a collaboration between experts in both theatre making and the field of mental health which seeks to explore the impact of sexism on mental wellbeing. It’s not always a clear picture that emerges from this play however, which darts around in a manner that’s sometimes difficult to follow.
Featuring George Drennan, Annie Grace and Maryam Hamidi, Hysteria! discusses what it’s like to be a woman in our culture, covering such topics as the much debated rape clause, misogyny, the glass ceiling, abuse, Donald Trump and the patriarchy. Segments of history are injected, such as the origin of the term “gaslighting”, the portrayal of women in the early days of the silver screen as unstable and prone to emotional extremes, and the doctors who once believed that hysteria was a fundamentally womb-based female issue to be treated by hysterectomy. Presented in a creative and alternative style, this week’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint is a cabaret, with musical interludes, including interesting and haunting discordant harmonies, ukulele playing, electric keys and an amusing rap about the DUP.
While the issues raised are entirely pertinent and important – and some very good points are made – Hysteria! isn’t all that engaging. Rather, it is disconnected and confusing in a way that detracts from its message. It seems to be representing the many faces and experiences of women, but moves around a great deal with little exposition and is often abstract (in terms of both the writing and staging) with the result being quite bewildering. The closing song, which is accompanied by footage of the 2017 global women’s marches, is rousing and moving, but otherwise I’m not sure Hysteria! is achieving the kind of impact it desires, which is disappointing given we need theatre that delves into this and highlights the injustice of the continued subjugation of women in society. It’s a very crucial matter and those who are impacted by the effects of sexism and sexual violence must be heard, supported and encouraged to “let it out” as the chorus of the final number rightly echoes.
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