The Patient Gloria review – shrinks take the rap in waywardly funny drama

If you search online for Three Approaches to Psychotherapy, you’ll find a set of 1965 recordings in which a patient, Gloria Szymanski, goes through sessions with three psychotherapists. By rights, you shouldn’t be able to see them at all: the single mother had consented for the films to be shown to students but was reportedly taken aback when they wound up in cinemas and even on television.

The story echoes the tale of Henrietta Lacks, dramatised by Adura Onashile in HeLa. Lacks’s cell samples were taken without her knowledge and, as it turned out, became an invaluable medical resource. For playwright Gina Moxley, the casual exploitation of a woman’s private life, combined with a male-dominated psychotherapeutic profession, is symptomatic of a society in which women exist to be framed, examined and exploited by men (who themselves are not short of psychological quirks).

Under the microscope … Gina Moxley, left, and Jane Deasy in The Patient Gloria. Photograph: Lara Cappelli

If that sounds heavy going, it is anything but in John McIlduff’s waywardly funny production for Dublin’s Abbey theatre. Moxley herself cross-dresses as the three psychotherapists, presenting them as smug egotists taking voyeuristic pleasure in their subject’s revelations. There’s a pantomimic quality to her performance, as if the more seriously she plays each role, the more ridiculous she becomes.

Played with period poise by Liv O’Donoghue, Gloria seems more troubled by the cross-questioning than the consequences of her sexually liberated lifestyle. The more the pressure mounts, the more she flops across the furniture, a writhing specimen robbed of her independence.

While Jane Deasy accompanies on grungy bass guitar, the actors are joined on the couch by a group of modern-day women, looking on at Moxley’s men in a way that makes their behaviour seem more peculiar still.

At Traverse, Edinburgh, until 25 August.

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