Sunday, 2 February 2014

Return of the Repressed written by Matthew Sweet and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: After returning to Victorian London, Jago and Litefoot are approached by the enigmatic Colonel and offered a role they cannot refuse – investigators by Royal Appointment to Queen Victoria! Their missions include a mystery on the Suffolk coast where strange things lurk in the sea mist, an encounter with Freud and a threat to the realm itself… But who can save Professor Litefoot when he is accused of murder, and no one can be convinced of his innocence?

Theatrical Fellow: A little peek into the psyche of Henry Gordon Jago as we get to experience one of his dreams first hand and it appears to consist of a theatrical performance including Sigmund Freud and a baboon and everybody appearing on stage naked! The idea of Dr Freud and Jago working together to uncover the truth behind his dreams was probably enough for the commissioning script editor to give this story the green light, it is a highly intoxicating notion and one that is full of imagery that is (as the story itself suggests) is open to interpretation. He doesn't give much thought to his family but most theatricals are the same. In one of his dreams he visits his home on a hot summer but not all of the details are right, it is much grander than he remembers. His mother (as interpreted by Lisa Bowerman) is a real dragon of a woman, ranting and raving at him as he tries to appease her. Jago is capable of restraint on occasion, when he is awake. For Henry the baboon is a monstrously powerful signifier of repressed desire; the fury he feels towards his father for abandoning him as a child and the fear he has of the suffocating influence of his mother.

Posh Professor: He is sad that he cannot do more for Henry but psychological evaluation and diagnosis is not really his field. When he talks about being taken to the zoo by Nanny it is clear that Litefoot and Jago had very different upbringings. He empathises with one of the escaped baboons, considering they were both born millions of miles away from London and having both been put through the mangle on several occasions. Once a week his father would take them to see the Commissioner because he had a pair a boys that were roughly the same age as his children and they spent every Sunday there. Litefoot used to dread going but not because of the boys - they were the only real friends that they had there. No, they had go through a ghastly ritual of feeding live rats to a baboon in the garden before they left. Her mother hated the commissioner because he once made a pass at her and would never accompany them. Litefoot has unexpressed anger about the incident. The two sides of his nature are exposed in his dreams, Anna Litefoot encapsulating his reason and the baboon his unreason. The civilised side always seeking to control the fury of the other.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'It is the most hyper inflated element in his symbolic mental economy and you took him to a place where you could feed one a bag of nuts?'

Great Ideas: Some writers love dropping their audience in the middle of a tale that has already begun and expect you to catch up. Matthew Sweet is one such writer and he is one of the few on Big Finish's payroll that is intelligent enough to guide you along until the proper information can be dropped in to get you up to speed with what has been going on to reach the point at which you joined the story. Litefoot is concerned that since they returned from Suffolk, Jago has been infected by a kind of madness and has dragged in Dr Freud to peek into his mind and see what is going on. How are we to judge which desires to act upon or ignore? And yet there are those who would take it upon themselves to insist upon which ones we should indulge in or not. Bizarrely, Peggy Mitchell seems to be alive and well in Victorian London and working as a taxi driver ('Get aat of my cab!'). The thought of somebody dying in their dreams and never waking up is a terrifying one and a conundrum that Dr Freud cannot rightly answer. Is that what it is like for people who do slip away in their sleep? Does their mind take over and  dream up a scenario that can display through imagery a way for them to pass satisfactorily? According to Freud every dream is a window into wish fulfilment, a visual landscape that expresses what we want. Lawrence Miles struck upon the imagery of slavering, out of control baboons breaking loose in Victorian London in the chilling novel The Adventuress of Henrietta Street and Matthew Sweet utilises the same kind of imagery in this tale. It almost seems to be a metaphor for the whatever beastly force is trying to break its way free of Jago's dreams. If our secrets reside and our true natures are hiding in our unconscious minds, what if you are yet to determine the nature of our true nature? The madness that has infected Jago is manifesting itself as a baboon in his dreams and has broken free out into the real world. For the last few nights both Jago and Freud's dreams have been following the same script. The madness was shipwrecked on the Suffolk coast, lost in the fog. The story makes us believe that it is Jago who was infected when it was Litefoot all along, mastered by its madness. He thought to lift the monster from his own back and pass the burden onto Jago and all the ape wanted was to escape. They rushed through the night of the universe and were broken when they fell but thanks to the a little psychological merging they are whole again.

Audio Landscape: Audience clapping and laughing, a baboon shaking a cage, ticking clock, screaming be honest I stopped listening to the soundscape after a while and had to focus entirely on the story.

Standout Scene: There are lots of wonderful little moments that take you by surprise but I especially enjoyed the reversal of expectations at the climax when we realise just what Litefoot's role in this story really is.

Result: I always say that the three dullest topics that anybody can talk about are the interpretation of dreams, endlessly banging on about children and talking about your pets as though they were siblings. Everybody is guilty of the first, I know a fair few people guilty of the second and I am one of the worst perpetrators of the third. Return of the Repressed obsesses about one of these subjects but it doesn't turn out to be a bore at all. Like The Spirit Trap and The Theatre of Dreams, Return of the Repressed is a Jago & Litefoot tale that manages to tell an entirely different sort of adventure from the norm, one which is more like a puzzle box to be figured out and where reality has to be questioned at every point. Listening to the behind the scenes featurette is fascinating because both Trevor Baxter and Lisa Bowerman read the script for this one and were horrified at how out of place and different it was to anything they had ever done before...but on subsequent re-reads they saw how it not only slotted in perfectly but also revealed a great deal about the series' titular characters. I think the audience might have a similar reaction, sheer incomprehension at first (the mixture of being dropped in at the middle of the narrative and to then start questioning reality at every turn is a big ask) but upon giving it another a go with a few salient facts in place it is actually one of the mot dense and clever pieces the series has attempted. And I'm saying this after only listening to it once. Getting both Jago & Litefoot on the psychiatrics couch allows us to discover much more about both characters, their pasts and important details about their childhood. Saying that this isn't simply a counselling session, Return of the Repressed is a story full of nightmarish imagery and soundscapes, moments to make you laugh and a climax that sees the mystery come together in a very rewarding way. I was very keen on this madness shared by three: 9/10

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