In ‘The Wonderful World of Dissocia’, playwright Anthony Neilson theatricalised mental illness. In its 2006 follow-up, ‘Realism’, he stages ‘normality’ – ie what goes on in the mind of a regular Joe. The result – a wild cavalcade of fantasies, memories and imaginative non-sequiturs, coming to life around a podgy thirtysomething in his vest and pants – is absurd, outrageous and tender. Its overdue English premiere, directed by Steve Marmion, confirms Neilson as the most exciting theatre artist now working.
On one level, the show’s just great fun. Neilson exposes the narrowness of ‘realism’, by demonstrating how vivid, and random, is the interiority of even banal lives.
Tim Treloar (played with comical hangdog charmlessness by, er, Tim Treloar) is nursing heartache and a hangover. Between journeys from sofa to kettle and back, his ex-girlfriend appears, and he spanks her over the toilet seat. ‘Question Time’ comes on TV, and Tim is hailed by the whole panel for his wise interjections (‘fuck off, you greasy fascist twat’). A bill drops through the letterbox, and Tim’s cri de coeur – ‘what a bunch of fucking cunts’– is sung and danced by a chorus of black and white minstrels.
‘That’s a bit racist, isn’t it?’ Tim complains to his subconscious. But the subconscious, and Neilson’s play, does what the hell it likes. Giant carrots, man-sized cats, bombs, you name it. It’s very moving to observe the disparity between this ordinary man’s small life and his big dreams and disappointments. ‘I contain multitudes,’ wrote Walt Whitman.
In ‘Realism’, Neilson lets the multitudes loose, and it’s thrilling to watch.