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Submitted Literature

The Wonderful World of Dissocia

By Anthony Neilson


Partially funded by the Scottish Executive’s ‘National Programme for Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing’, and first performed as part of the 2004 Edinburgh International Festival, Neilson's play attempts, in his words, to address the question of why people who are mentally ill find it difficult to take their medication.

The first act involves a recognisable quest structure, as Lisa Montgomerie is dispatched to the land of Dissocia to recover an hour which she has lost - ostensibly the reason for the neurotic symptoms she reports at the opening of the play. In Dissocia, she meets a number of memorable characters who owe a clear debt to Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, as she attempts to locate her hour in a world ravaged by the savage Black Dog King.

As Lisa (revealed to be the missing Queen Sarah of Dissocia) comes face to face with her nemesis, however, the play is interrupted by the interval. Returning to the auditorium, the audience discover Lisa lying sedated in a psychiatric ward, having suffered a relapse of an unspecified psychotic illness as a result of stopping her medication. This second act has none of the colour and excitement of the pantomime-esque first, instead focussing on the process of Lisa’s recovery and the reactions of her carers, friends and family.

The play attempts to provide a balanced picture, contrasting the excitement of psychotic symptoms with the experience of medication, while emphasising the impact of mental illness on those close to patients.

However, while it is very effective in humanising Lisa, rather than presenting her as a stereotyped ‘nut-case’ (in the words of her sister Dot), its simplistic answer to the question of medication does a disservice to service-users. The play fails to address the question of the side-effects of psychiatric medication, and Dot’s concern with what others will think, and appeal to Lisa to ‘take the consequences’ is never challenged.

Overall, Dissocia is an important step in the use of literature and artistic media to engage specifically with madness as a lived experience rather than a narrative trope, but one which also draws attention to the pitfalls of this kind of public engagement.


Key Themes:

  • Carer Issues
  • Psychosis

Significant Quotes / Pages

"[Y]ou’re just going to have to take the consequences. We can’t all be floating around with our heads in the clouds, playing the guitar and being ‘artistic’. The sooner you get that through your head, the better. This is the real world." (83)

"You know what it is? It's like the sirens [...] They sit on the rocks and they sing to the sailors. And what they sing is so lovely it’s like . . . they’re hypnotised. They know if they sail to them their ship’s going to get all smashed up. But they think it’s worth it, you know – for the song." (88)

Reference: Anthony, Neilson. 2007. The Wonderful World of Dissocia. Methuen Drama, 2007


Mr Christopher Jones
Date Review Submitted: Monday 5th September 2011