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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama


The Talking Cure

Christopher Hampton

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To purchase The Talking Cure

Title: The Talking Cure
Author: Christopher Hampton
Genre: Drama
Written: 2002
Length: 88 pages
Availability: The Talking Cure - US
The Talking Cure - UK
The Talking Cure - Canada
  • The Talking Cure was first presented at the Cottesloe Theatre in London, in January 2003, in a production directed by Howard Davies, starring Ralph Fiennes as Jung, Jodhi May as Sabina Spielrein, and Dominic Rowan (replacing James Hazeltine) as Freud
  • The Talking Cure was made into a film, A Dangerous Method, by David Cronenberg in 2011, starring Viggo Mortensen and Keira Knightley

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting glimpse of history, but too rushed to be compelling

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 15/1/2003 Charles Spencer
The Guardian B 14/1/2003 Michael Billington
The Independent . 14/1/2003 Paul Taylor
Independent on Sunday . 19/1/2003 Kate Bassett
The New Yorker . 27/1/2003 John Lahr
The Spectator . 25/1/2003 Toby Young
The Times A 14/1/2003 Benedict Nightingale
TLS . 24/1/2003 Maria Margaronis

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, but no one thinks it's truly awful

  From the Reviews:
  • "Even making allowances for this, The Talking Cure disappoints. Like much of Hampton's work, it is civilised, witty and touching, but full-blooded drama is often in worryingly short supply. (...) Unfortunately, the play's energy diminishes as soon as Sabina begins to get better." - Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph

  • "(H)is latest work, dealing with the early years of Jung and his seminal relationship with Sabina Spielrein, is intriguing and informative. Ungratefully, one hungers for something that sends one out dramatically stirred rather than pining for a reading list. (...) As a piece of psychiatric investigation and a story of a love affair, the play is fascinating. (...) But there is something about its emphasis on narrative over drama that suggests the work's place is on the screen." - Michael Billington, The Guardian

  • "Hampton's play goes on to dramatise -- a touch dutifully -- how Jung came to regret his professional misconduct, not least because it helped hasten his ideological and personal split with Freud. (..) While showing that Sabina was a catalyst in their break-up, the play does not convincingly deny that this would have come about in any case." - Paul Taylor, The Independent

  • "Hampton's running themes of father-figures and power inversions may be too obvious at points. His charting of Jung's changing theories can seem sketchy and, as dramatis personae Mrs Jung and Otto are underdeveloped. One might also wonder if The Talking Cure has half a mind to be a screenplay, some scenes are so brief. Yet these are cavils." - Kate Bassett, Independent on Sunday

  • "(A) play in which events are indicated rather than dramatized. Hampton's dialogue is more about narration than penetration: it's smart, but some gee-whizzery creeps into the exchanges." - John Lahr, The New Yorker

  • "As it turns out, it's one of Hampton's best. He invariably writes well when dealing with real life characters (...) and here he's at his most intelligent and absorbing. The play is a sort of shrink triangle-drama." - Benedict Nightingale, The Times

  • "Christopher Hampton's ambitious, intimate new play, The Talking Cure, uses the theatrical metaphors built into psychoanalysis to expose the passions that shaped its beginnings. (...) It is not easy to pack all this into two-and-a-half hours on stage, and the necessary bits of theoretical exposition sometimes seem a little Monty Pythonish (...) As a play of ideas, The Talking Cure shows how psychoanalytic theories were shaped by the personalities of their proponents." - Maria Margaronis, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Talking Cure is a play about Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud and the earliest days of psychoanalysis. Beside Jung's wife the only other significant figures in the play are also psychoanalysts, two damaged human beings who are both followers and patients of Jung and Freud. One is Sabina Spielrein; in Hampton's play she and Jung became romantically involved (as they apparently really did).
       The play describes Spielrein's transformation from violent and deeply disturbed woman in her late teens to a reasonably well-adjusted medical student and then practitioner -- as well as offering one glimpse decades ahead, to show what becomes of her. Jung cures her, more or less, and he does so using the 'talking cure' -- the now familiar technique of allowing a patient to do most of the talking while the doctor at best lightly guides the patient along. At the time it was a completely innovative technique -- a "radical therapeutic idea", Jung calls it (and describes it first as "psychanalysis", until master Freud decides it should be: "Psychoanalysis", because: "it's more logical and it sounds better.")
       The play covers the time from 1904 to 1913 (with one brief scene at the end of the first act looking ahead to 1942). These were defining years for the new field of psychology, and in the play Hampton traces the relationship between Jung and Freud: Jung is first seen as Freud's follower and then even heir (as drug-addicted Otto Gross, the other patient-cum-psychoanalyst, proves too unstable to follow in Freud's footsteps), but eventually there is a break between the two -- one that Spielrein (and Hampton) suggest weakens the field as a whole.
       Jung's wife is focussed entirely on her children (on the ones she has, and on getting more), and Jung eventually can't help but feel passionately about his fascinating patient. Spielrein's is an interesting case. Abused -- verbally and physically -- as a child by her domineering but otherwise disinterested parents, she also finds sexual arousal in being humiliated and hurt. Jung eventually helps her come to terms with these issues, but she never entirely escapes them. Eventually, Jung and Spielrein become romantically involved, causing some professional difficulties for Jung -- and helping to harden the break with Freud.
       The play effectively shows the difficulties of keeping the human element from influencing psychoanalytic practise, as all four psychoanalysts (Jung, Spielrein, Gross, and even, to some extent, Freud) allow their personalities (and especially their defects) to affect their work.
       These are interesting characters: Jung, torn between his bourgeois, family-oriented lifestyle and his passion for Spielrein, as well as the damaged Spielrein and Gross, taking different approaches to dealing with their personal demons. But this is an awful lot of material to cram into a play, and, in particular, the Jung-Freud conflict isn't presented as effectively as one might wish.
       Particularly odd is the final scene of the first act, a flash ahead to 1942, when just in the scene before Spielrein said: "I don't like to think about the future." Her 1942 fate is tragic, but not a convincing explanation for her too-prescient fear more than three decades before; it feels as if this was the only way Hampton could slip in what became of her.
       These are fascinating stories, but the play doesn't entirely successfully use them. There's decent drama on the stage, but there seem too many quick fixes, with too little sense of what really goes into all these changes and transformations. It's entertaining enough, but one feels that the material deserves more attention.

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The Talking Cure: Reviews: A Dangerous Method - the film: Carl Jung: Sigmund Freud: Sabina Spielrein: Otto Gross: Christopher Hampton: Other books under review by Christopher Hampton: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Drama under review

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About the Author:

       British playwright Christopher Hampton was born in 1946. He has written and translated numerous plays and screenplays.

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© 2004-2011 the complete review

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