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Losing the significance of our subtleties seems to be a universal risk in everyday life and even more so in the adventures of a sufferer of dissociative personality disorder. The opening night of Lancaster University Theatre Group’s production of ‘The Wonderful World of Dissocia’ went peculiarly well; the professionalism may seem banal to most but its credibility is as stark as Anthony Neilson’s script. Assuming responsibility of a play bearing the Critics’ Award for Theatre in Scotland can mean guaranteed success; conversely, it can mean total disaster – if the production team can manage to ruin a rich text. Let’s start with what they got right.
It is a simple trick often missed by directors who refuse to engage with the action to let the pace slip and yet there was a real sense of motion from the start. Toby Cordwell’s direction provided a playpen for the actors in which, with total conviction, they experimented with the diverse and boisterous characters. The company’s commitment to being dangerous on stage was enough to keep the momentum forceful throughout – especially as the action transitions from a deceptively realistic opening to the wonderful world of Dissocia, as the title indicates. So much potential was fulfilled during the performance when the production successfully effectuated two distinctly opposing halves, the first act a topsy-turvy turmoil in contrast with the objectively realistic and sanitised second half: so much so that in the interval they ushered the audience out of The Duke’s DT3 space in order to clear the gastronomic clutter involving hotdogs. The sound design was spot-on and noteworthy.
Abbie Jones, as Lisa, responded tenaciously to the demands of her character. Being able to truly sustain this level of performance exhaustively raised the drama and with it the concentration of the whole cast. Her Lisa was so genuine that it was hard to believe that her imagination can run awfully awry. The actress was in good stead when the two guards, played by Jake Walton and Matt Simpson, showcased a humourous chemistry that set off sparks. As an aged oathtaker, James Varney’s convincing physicality, like Michael Reffold’s Victor Hesse, allowed Jones to invest authority in both characters. Tim Mackworth-Praed found a knack for playing the twisted characters Goat and Biffer, alongside Charlotte Blatt who, according to the show programme, is “happy to sacrifice herself in any way for the greater good” to great comic effect (involving sheep and rape simultaneously).
For a lot of people, the struggle came when there was so little dialogue in the second half and the tension became rather difficult to create. It is respectable how the production’s overall confidence never disappeared. On a negative note, the purposes of the FREDs (Facilitator Regarding Existential Design) were somewhat questionable. Alex Parker, Becky Phillips, Camille Hargaden, Emily Dixon and Pip Docwra only had two distinct appearances as FREDs, the most memorable being the scene where they turned floating hearts into fly-shaped puppets called ‘timeflies’. Despite this, they remained dedicated to their cause, making this production almost seamless. This dedication must remain prevalent in LUTG if they are to keep producing shows of a similar quality. One audience member described this performance as ‘good with very good bits in it’. It cannot be summed up any better than that, really.