Freud: Case Histories - Dora, translated by Shaun Whiteside, dramatized by Deborah Levy

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Saturday Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 11 February 2012
Set in 1899, this case-history had a father (Gerard MacDermott) imploring Freud (Robert Glenister) to cure his daughter Dora (Olivia Hallinan), after discovering that she was about to commit suicide. The girl suffers from a limp, loss of voice and a cough. As the treatment progresses, so Freud uncovers the truth about Dora's life; how she lived in an unstable family background, and became the object of unwanted sexual advances from Herr K (Alun Raglan).
Elizabeth Allard's production concentrated on Dora's loss of innocence, symbolized by the regular trilling of a child's musical box. Having grown up in a relatively sheltered environment, she was neither ready nor willing to tolerate Herr K's fumbling attempts to kiss her. What made it worse - in her mind, at least - was that her father appeared to collude with Herr K., so as to be able to pursue his own affair with Frau K (Susie Riddell). Dora was left alone, unable to tell anyone about her traumatic experiences.
By contrast Freud came across as a calm personality, listening to his patient's reveations and drawing logical conclusions. The ordered nature of his world was summed up by the regular ticking of a grandfather clock, followed by the loud trill of an alarm as the consultation came to an end.
As the drama unfolded, so it became increasingly clear that the psychiatrist (as with the other male protagonists) was reinforcing patriarchal power over the girl. Rather than empathizing with her plight, he cast her in the role of a predator who deliberately repressed her subconscious attraction towards Herr K. Dora faced a stark choice; the only way she could be cured was to allow herself to be mentally and sexually abused. Dora's response was non-committal ("I will say nothing, nothing at all"), but she subsequently decided to strike out on her own, cancelling any further appointments and vowing instead to work out her own destiny.
The play was ingeniously structured, with Dora and Freud communicating their inner thoughts to listeners in aside. Freud came across as supremely confident as he interpreted his patient's thoughts, but that confidence was undermined by the end as Dora turned away from him. He was forced to acknowlege that his "treatment" - if it can be described as such - had been at best inconclusive. Dora's asides denoted her developing state of mind - at first she was reluctant to express her thoughts to listeners, but by the end she had resolved to "move swiftly" towards self-determination, and thereby free herself from patriarchal power. She looked forward to the dawn of the new century (1900), representing a new beginning for her.
Freud: The Case Histories suggested that whereas Freud's case-study might be an iconic work, it is the product of a patriarchal society in which the psychiatrist asserted mental and physical dominance over his patients. Freud did not challenge the existing social order, but rather reinforced it through scentific enquiry. Robert Glenister gave a sinister performance in the title role, at once sympathetic yet profoundly complacent.