The wonderful world of Dissocia

What impressed me most about this performance of Neilson’s Dissocia was its ability to present the key theme of mental illness in such a way that it gave me a greater understanding of how sufferers themselves must feel. The actors and actresses did succeed in bringing out the comic elements of the text, so the evening was highly entertaining. Although I felt the theme of mental illness was for the most part handled well, at times, the lack of thorough production values hindered Neilson’s intention of creating clear contrast between reality and unreality.

Overall the first half was more effective than the second. The wonderful world of Dissocia’ centres on the main character Lisa, a girl with a mental illness of some sort. I felt this actress’s performance was very strong and how she was portrayed as an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ type character, with long blonde hair and a blue tea dress, was very visually effective and immediately after she entered the stage I as an audience member was aware the production was not of a naturalistic genre. Neilson wants us to find answers for questions we may not have thought about before, such as why do patients with mental illness often refuse to take their medication?

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This would increase our understanding of these conditions and the way they are handled. In order to do this effectively we needed to fall in love with Dissocia and its magic so we could sympathise with Lisa for not wanting to leave it. A key scene which achieved this for me as an audience member showed Lisa wandering around a ‘field’ lost in her thoughts. This scene appealed to all the senses, using a range of production values, and the elements of visual, aural, spatial which is why I found it so memorable and effectual.

The most important, and for me most effective, design element used throughout the play were the assorted coloured doors on wheels which separated the audience from some points of the performance, focused the audience’s attention on one character or even concealed some characters. These doors were visually effective and brought out that childish instinct within me. My attention was completely captivated as they moved around the stage, revealing new and exciting things every time.

There was a negative side to these, however, for as they moved around the stage they made a lot of noise. This made it difficult to hear what the actors were saying on occasions, and could be solved by carpeting the floor, but I suspect that production costs would not cover this as it was a student production. Projection was used in this scene to show white clouds moving on a blue sky on the back wall and the aural effect of birdsong was played to the audience. This informed the audience that Lisa was now outside and also gave a sense of Lisa’s current care free mood.

At this point, the doors had moved into a semi circle around Lisa focusing their attention upon her and cut her off from the rest of the stage. This was effective spatially as I felt closer to Lisa and more in tune with her state of mind. As Lisa wandered around the ‘field’ bubbles were blown out from behind the doors and the lights dimmed as the sky projection on the back wall became sunset orange. The acting here from the girl playing Lisa was impressive, it changed with the changing light – her movements became larger, slower softer. This made her more childlike and endeared her to us as an audience.

Spatially this was effective as I found my eyes following her every move as she delivered her poem about the true meaning of an hour. As rhis was happening on stage I felt a wonderful feeling of unity amongst the audience where every person in the theatre was transported to the place the director wanted them to be and that in that moment, the combined visual, spatial and aural effects had everyone feeling the intended magic of Dissocia. I conclude that all of these were effective in presenting a more positive side of the theme of mental illness, and achieved the writer’s aims too.

According to the text Act 2 is naturalistic in style juxtaposing effectively with Act 1. However, I felt that this had been misinterpreted in this performance, so the overall effectiveness was lessened, as the contrast was less strong which also made the theme seem less strongly presented throughout. Some performance values had been carried over from Act 1, such as the doors which now circled Lisa and were now white and grey, as was everything else including the fruit! Although this was visually effective it was not naturalistic.

The acting performances from the nurses were naturalistic and effective with short, terse delivery of the lines gave me as an audience member a real understanding of the isolation Lisa felt. However, the nurses were directed to stand facing the wings in the shadows of the stage around the circle of doors once they had left the stage. This was not naturalistic which meant that the text wasn’t fully realised in the production. This therefore meant that the stark contrast between Dissocia and reality was not clearly communicated to the audience.

Overall, I feel that the performance was successful at communicating information about its key theme of mental illness, but did not go as far as being able to fulfil all the writers’ intentions. It was entertaining and thought provoking but was unsuccessful in that it did not provide enough of a contrast between reality and unreality in order for the audience to fully grasp the intended meaning of the play. I was left feeling I had had an entertaining evening but would not take this issue of the treatment of mental illness away with me to reflect upon as the writer would have wanted.