Hysteria by Terry Johnson, Blog Post by John Dorney. Our Salvador Dalí, has been blogging about Hysteria rehearsals and how he feels in the run up to opening night….
I remember when a friend was trying to start up a local amateur theatre group that he said the first play should be ‘something simple – like a farce’. I think I stared at him long and hard. Farce is not simple. Farce at its best is complex, intricately structured writing, played with precision timing that aims to look effortless. Chaos, but of the most controlled sort. It’s something of a compliment to the genre that it’s viewed as simple, but trust me, it really isn’t.
I’ve been in rehearsals for Terry Johnson’s Hysteria for four weeks now. There are many expertly engineered bits of farce writing in this play, and we’ve spent several hours working out the timing and the moves to make them work to their maximum potential. Or at least we hope we have.
Of course, it’s somewhat reductive to view the play as merely a ‘farce’. I’ve nothing against the genre – in addition to several stage classics, it’s there in multiple episodes of Frasier, Fawlty Towers and Coupling amongst others, so it would be rather foolish to dismiss it – but Hysteria is a play that refuses to stick to a single genre. Puns about snot sit comfortably beside dark moments of trauma in a piece unlike any other. The closest comparison I can make is to Michael Frayn’s deconstructionist classic Noises Off, but even that masterpiece isn’t the unique experience that is Hysteria.
I think it’s the contrast that is the genius of it. The darker moments make the comedy funnier, and the silliness makes the depths all the sadder.
It’s a dazzling piece of work and it’s been a privilege to work on it. And, perhaps counter-intuitively, it’s not always the funny stuff that’s made us chuckle during rehearsals. This sort of precise ‘go there, wait a beat, then go there’ choreography requires a level of concentration that makes corpsing an impossibility. But laugh we have, as we get to explore the absurdity and the surrealism of the piece. So rarely in life do you get to say ‘I’m not going for a false moustache, as it might come off when I remove the gas mask.’
And slowly, but surely, we’ve seen it come together. Characters have developed, surprises have been found and the world of the play has coalesced, but there’s one thing missing. As I type this, it’s two nights to our opening night – to the hour. And I can hardly wait, because that’s all we’re waiting for now, the sixth cast member, the audience. They’re the ones who will make the show, and hopefully one night you’ll be one of them.
Hysteria is onstage at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds between Tuesday 21 – Saturday 25 February. You can book your tickets HERE