Highlighting the uppers and downers of mental health is Underground’s first production of the year, The Wonderful World of Dissocia written by Anthony Neilson.
Lisa Jones (played with great realism by Emily Carr) suffers from a dissociative identity disorder and after losing an hour on a transatlantic flight, she ventures to the world of Dissocia to find the lost hour in an effort to restore balance to her life. On arrival she is greeted by two self-doubting ‘insecurity guards’ (played by Andrew Bloyce and Peter Staff). When asked why they don’t consider themselves to be security guards, their response is: “If it was secure you wouldn’t need to guard it”. Meanwhile, at the ‘Lost and Found’ department there was a line-up because the ‘Lost and Found’ department had lost. To help pass the time in the queue, a mad hatter-like tea party, substituted by the good ol’ BBQ, ensued. One person had lost their humour, another had lost the argument, and the last had lost his inhibitions (and yes, he was naked).
We also meet other quirky characters such as a Scape Goat (played well by William Pyke) and Jane (played by Ishkoodah Schofield-Jones with great comic timing), a council worker whose job is to be a professional victim, taking the brunt of everyone’s crimes in Dissocia.
The first act was Lisa’s wild, strange, and sometimes scary journey through Dissocia (and her own mind) which is under threat by the evil Black Dog King. The second act is a stark contrast to the first and is set in the hospital ward, which is quite sterile and stagnant. The nurses and doctors come and go, the clock goes round, but nothing seems to happen. The short, succinct scenes become monotonous after a while, but that is kind of the point the playwright is trying to make; the sufferer has the choice to be medicated, merely existing, with the only excitement siren call or mental illness.
To produce a play with an entire act set in a fantasy world is an ambitious undertaking for a student run drama society with limited resources. Director Sampson Smith has done a commendable job in creating this illusory world, aided by production designer Raymond Milner, set designer Sala Rankine, and lighting designer Alex Taylor. The contrast between the vivid fantasy realm and the stark, clinical, mental ward was especially well done.
The sound design/composition by Isha Simpson was noteworthy from the out-set, with extra creativity kudos for the fact that we liked it so much we looked it up on Shazam … and couldn’t find anything! However, some of the abrupt sound cue cut-offs were jolting (or was that the purpose)?
Dressing the myriad of characters in this play was a high order. Congrats to Jessica Palfrey and Shea Hine on creating such an array of costumes that contrast both the fantasy and real world (with personal favourites being the goat and the insecurity guards).
The ensemble cast likewise were challenged with playing multiple roles but managed to make each of their characters so different that some were hardly recognisable.
The Wonderful World of Dissocia was expectedly weird but interesting and fun. The writing was witty and pacey in the first act, which contrasted quite wellwith the intentionally drawn-out second act.
Dissocia presented by Underground Productions played at the Schonell Theatre at UQ in St Lucia from 6 – 15 March.