Dreamplay successfully moves from scene to scene using dream like imagery, more of a performance piece than theatre. Laura Moody’s music, paired with the strong presence of .ichelle Luther, makes this particularly clear.
Agnes from August Strindberg’s 1901 A Dream Play returns to British stages and, once again, under many disguises. The original play saw her descent to Earth where she followed lives reflecting human suffering. The daughter of Vedic God Indra, eventually losing hope, returned back to Heaven, her decision deriving from witnessing poverty, cruelty and mundane home life.
Over the past century, many directors, including both Max Reinhardt and Ingmar Bergman, have taken to adapt this play as it’s considered to be Strindberg’s most influential piece of work.
Sarah Bedi’s interpretation twists and conforms the drama to stand as Dreamplay, a contemporary play for regular theatre-goers. Dreamplay is performed in the Vaults and the choice of venue is well suited to this experimental piece. Situated underneath Waterloo station, the Vaults adds atmosphere to the supernatural themes. Instead of being placed on seating, the audience is guided through the Vaults, subjected to visions of bare concrete walls.
“It’s also great to get to move away from a normal theatre experience where we all know the rules (we’ll sit in the dark and clap at the end) and build some new rules together in a new place. It feels like a really open way of connecting with an audience.” (Sarah Bedi)
What the play will deliver is left to the imagination. And the imagination is exactly what you need to follow this adaptation.
Away from the comfort of seats, the audience members are taken outside; during this, you spot a woman. (Jade Ogugua).
Making eye contact, she looks out of place and the audience instead focuses on the music which mesmerises. Laura Moody’s musical talent exceeds expectations and, just as you want to delve deeper into the sound, Agnes returns. Whether she’s a homeless person or not, the audience’s reaction to her resembles that of the reaction of citizens to homeless people in the real world. Who is this nuisance? And why is she diverting attention away from the beauty of this sound?
After a chase, and some shouting, the audience is guided to the inside of a warehouse, and it is in here that the drama kicks in.
As we follow five characters into the shadow-filled warehouse space, the promenade style keeps you on your feet. Guided inside, in a role similar to Agnes’, we gain insight into the existence of human kind; the audience have become witnesses.
With the introduction of Michelle Luther, the play instantly peaks interest. At first, she is a adolescent locked in a bathroom – followed by playing a puppet – Moody taking the place of puppeteer with her musical strings. Ffion Cox-Davies’ choreography is outstanding and, without saying much, Luther exceeds the boundaries of acting.
Each scene from there on is a distorted dream-like sequence based around humans and their behaviour. Although most scenes are interesting, the ones including Luther and Moody overshadow those of their peers.
Colin Hurley, a former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, is placed into the audience to be targeted by Luther. Although at first you sympathise that he is singled out, swiftly it becomes apparent that he is a cast member. (This is rather disappointing as you wish to continue with the illusion).
However, in his scenes with Luther, they bounce off each other’s energy, and what seems like an odd relationship, becomes a bizarre representation of one individual’s choice in choosing a significant other.
Moving abruptly from a living room, to classroom to a beach, the work of Strindberg will be readily apparent only if you are familiar with the playtext.
Sarah Bedi wants the audience to “delve within their subconscious finding new and surprising stuff.” However with such a complex playtext, promenade theatre can be tricky, particulary so without comedy.
The finalé scene in particular lets this adaptation down. A body is pulled into the middle of audience – yet the audience are facing one another. Instead of focusing on Agnes’ anguish, her return to Heaven is lost with the audience coping with having to stand around the body. If there is any purpose to the remaining cast members during the final moments, it is not apparent.
Now that Agnes has reached peak during her debased time upon Earth, Dreamplay fails to connect with the emotions that drive Agnes back to Heaven. Without the three walls of an ordinary proscenium space, not enough is expressed to hold onto the imagination that is required.
Overall, Dreamplay successfully moves from scene to scene using dream like imagery, more of a performance piece than theatre. Laura Moody’s music, paired with the strong presence of Michelle Luther, makes this particularly clear.
Expect to leave with many questions.