Thursday, December 02, 2010

Dr Freud's Cabaret

Review of Dr Freud’s Cabaret, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, December 1.

Sigmund Freud’s famous case studies relating to hysteria form the very foundation of psychoanalysis. In Dr Freud’s Cabaret, Charlotte Greig and Anthony Reynolds have set to music the neurotic lives of Anna O, the Wolf Man, Little Hans, Dora, the Rat Man et al, and in doing so liberated them from the dusty realms of academia. It’s an inspired idea. And the bizarre psychological worlds inhabited here are perfectly suited to the cabaret format.

This thought-provoking musical entertainment consists of ten songs performed by Greig (Anna O) and Reynolds (Freud). Linking the songs together is Freud’s Welsh biographer and propagandist-in-chief, Ernest Jones (played by Gerald Tyler). He is part huckster; part ringmaster to this cast of neurotic freaks. Also in attendance is Jasper the Illusionist whose mind-reading interludes add humour to proceedings, as well as a bit of audience participation.

The real stars of the show, however, are the songs themselves. Greig and Reynolds have done a fantastic job of dramatising, in miniature, the traumas of Freud’s patients. Six White Wolves relates the strange lupine dreams of the Wolf Man. Chimney Sweeping is a feminist nod to the crucial role played by Anna O in the history of psychoanalysis. And the Oedipal conflict of Little Hans is neatly outlined in The Crumpled Giraffe.

Songs such as Katharina are so beautiful it is easy to forget the darkness lurking beneath the surface. Katharina, you may remember, was a victim of sexual abuse. Vermin in the Trenches is just as disturbing. The Rat Man, plagued (if you’ll pardon the expression) by daydreams of anally intrusive rats died, ironically, in the vermin-infested trenches of WW1. Stepping out of the casebook for a moment Greig and Reynolds croon their way through A Gift from the Gods which amusingly recalls Freud’s medical dabblings in cocaine.

I’ve no idea if plans are afoot to release these marvellous songs on CD but it would be a shame if they weren’t made available to a wider audience. Both musically and cerebrally satisfying, Dr Freud’s Cabaret, proved to be an enthralling and memorable theatrical experience.