What did you dream about last night? I can’t be sure, although I have a feeling at one point I was teaching some American children how to do the can-can. This is pretty standard; my dreams hardly ever make any sense, if I remember them at all. But what does tend to stay with me is how they make me feel – sometimes happy and relaxed, occasionally relieved, other times tense and panicky. (I once had a dream I was on the run, and spent the entire following day feeling uneasy and looking over my shoulder, without really knowing why.)
Anyone seeking a linear or even logical narrative in BAZ Productions’ dreamplay, based on August Strindberg’s 1901 play, will inevitably leave feeling disappointed; each time we come close to understanding what’s going on, the play veers off in an unexpected direction and brings us back to square one. And yet there’s no denying that the scenes we witness – as disjointed and downright odd as they undoubtedly are – evoke some pretty powerful emotions. Some are funny, others sad, others a bit scary (nothing quite like being suddenly plunged into darkness to get the heart racing). And I’m willing to bet if you asked the audience on the way out which moment in particular spoke to them, there’d be a lot of different answers.
At this point in a review I’d usually include a plot summary, but as we’ve already established, that’s not really relevant in this case. That said, there is the hint of a story running through the scenes: a young woman, Agnes, comes to Earth to try and discover what makes human beings sad. It’s a quest that ends in disappointment, however, and Agnes finally leaves without the enlightenment she was hoping for.
The Vaults, beneath Waterloo Station, is an atmospheric and inspired choice of venue for director Sarah Bedi’s mysterious journey into the world of dreams. As we move from each space to the next, we’re plunged into a different world: a dimly lit auditorium; a modern bedroom; vast, echoing tunnels; even the open air. And while the promenade experience is an unusual and occasionally frustrating one – just as you’re getting comfortable, up you get and move on again – it also feels necessary to create that sensation of being in a dream, where your surroundings can and do change without warning. The only scene that didn’t really work for me was the last one; with the audience all on our feet and most of the action taking place on the floor, those of us in the back struggled to see what was happening.
The cast take on a variety of roles throughout the show. Colin Hurley is convincing as an audience member plucked from his seat; it’s simultaneously a disappointment and a relief when he’s revealed to be a plant. Jade Ogugua and Jack Wilkinson shine in perhaps the closest scene to “normality”, in which a recently married couple argue about their finances, while Michelle Luther is both entertaining and slightly terrifying as a performer controlled by the cello music to which she dances. That music is provided by alternative cellist, vocalist and singer-songwriter Laura Moody, in whose hands the cello becomes not just a musical instrument but almost human, capable of menace, joy, playfulness and despair.
From a traditional perspective, dreamplay doesn’t really make any sense. It’s a series of striking images and moments that, afterwards, we may struggle to connect. As someone who likes to leave the theatre understanding what I’ve just seen, I now find myself a little frustrated at my inability to pinpoint what this play was all about. Then again, I often feel that way about my dreams (I have no idea where teaching the can-can came from, for instance, and that bothers me) – so in that respect, dreamplay is right on the money.
dreamplay is at The Vaults until 1st October.
Want to know more? Read my interview with director Sarah Bedi.