Dr Freud’s Cabaret | Theatre Review

Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
Wed 1 Dec  

★★★☆☆

Dr Freud’s Cabaret starts, as all of our favourite psychoanalyst’s stories do, with a character’s voice rising from the couch. Now, as frantic patient Ernest Jones stands to become the master of ceremonies in this colourful performance, the clash of the private world of the subconscious with the brash and open realm of the cabaret just seems so promising.

If first impressions can be counted on, this turn of the century art-form certainly is an appropriate and enjoyable medium from which to explore Freudian thought. Like the doctor’s texts, the showiness of the performance invites us all to think about seedy excess, and encourages an honest revelation of our drives and desires. It also excuses the presence of Magic Circle member Jasper the Illusionist, who functions as an interesting way of weaving audience with performance, showing us that everyone’s mind has the capacity to be manipulated. Thanks to Jasper’s sleight of hand, we are reminded that there’s only a thin line between us (with our inability to see where the three of hearts went) and Freud’s infamous patients who lose track of their impulses, their affections and their rationality.

Yet appropriate as it first seems, throughout the piece there is an intense struggle between the private and the showy and whatever Freud did to bring his patients into common knowledge as relatable, ordinary in their uniqueness and emphatically human, this show erases. While Freud’s notes seem deeply personal, trusting us with the most revealing details of an individual’s life, this production re-sculpts caricatures who are comic in their actions and extreme in their neurosis. Reluctantly, we are exposed to the inevitable: Once a couch moment turns cabaret, a certain degree of intimacy will always be lost.

As a consequence, in this production the patients are left far from cured. Instead, their stories float around the mind of a disengaged and bewildered doctor who, because of his own self-absorption, can never help them out. Anthony Reynolds’ Freud is obsessed with cocaine and Katarina and meanders around with messy hair and untied laces, obviously in as much need of a talking cure as the patients he describes.

This show may not teach us much about Freud’s case studies and it certainly divulges little about the success of psychoanalysis over the years. However, it does teach us a lot about how we mythologise facts. It highlights the fact that Freud’s works are so popular because of their intimacy, which often makes us feel we shouldn’t be reading them; it reminds us that there often is as much longing involved in how we process the cure, as there is in the original neurosis; and, most importantly, it shows us that to admire Freud, we have to believe in his status as a stable gentleman in a world of hysteria.

(first published in Buzz)

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