Wonderful World of Dissocia, The
Steve Cramer talks to Christine Entwisle, who won a best actress award for her performance in Anthony Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia.
Back in 2004, the Edinburgh International Festival debuted a play at the Lyceum that would subsequently win five of the ten categories in the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland. Anthony Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia was an astonishing piece of theatre, a study, in effect, of mental illness from both inside and outside of its protagonist’s head, which contrived to be profound without worthiness, bumptiously humorous without triviality, shocking and ultimately very moving.
In performance, the piece was simultaneously revelatory and enigmatic, and perhaps its greatest enigma was a performer who few of the critics on the panel had encountered before, Christine Entwisle. Against stiff opposition, this actress won best performer (female) for an astonishing piece of acting as the play’s protagonist Lisa, a young woman troubled by Dissociative Identity Disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder.
Not a second was wasted in her representation of this complex character, who was barely offstage for the entire length of the play. It was a performance built, it seemed, with meticulous care.
‘I don’t have a process, I don’t over-analyse, there’s nothing method about it, I just tend to work on instinct really,’ says Entwisle, with engaging artlessness. ‘My only question to myself is “Do I believe it?”, and if I do, I tend to think I’ve got it right. That’s my only criterion. I can only say that I was in touch with some of the problems that the character had, but I think we all are.’
What is also fascinating is her relative absence from the stage since the storming success of Dissocia. Yet this might also be explained by the mystifying failure of British theatre to fully exploit the success of the piece, which has seldom been seen since.
‘It’s very strange, the idea of being in a very successful show that hasn’t been picked up is worse somehow than to be in an unsuccessful show, because you really start asking some deep philosophical questions about the business you’re in. I thought, “it’s done so well, won so many awards, and still nobody wants it”,’ she says.
This revival, courtesy of the NTS, goes a long way towards remedying this omission. Entwisle explains that it was the more disturbing elements of the play which drew her to the role. ‘I think there’s quite a dark taste in me, and I think there’s a lot of that in comedy,’ she says. ‘With Anthony’s work, you get that really queasy feeling where you’re laughing at something and then you realise that it’s really not pleasant. He does really muck around with the PC threshold in your brain. My husband came to see it in Edinburgh, and I told him that the second half was really disturbing, so I kind of prepared him for that. Afterwards he said, “Well, I was ready for the second half, but you didn’t tell me you got anally raped by a goat in the first half”.’It tells you something about Neilson and Entwisle that, within seconds of this scene, they have you laughing again.
Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 28 Feb-Sat 10 Mar, then touring.