As we entered Corpus Auditorium for the first look at A Dream Play, we were greeted by assistant Director, Ollo Clark, ending warm up, focusing on volume and diction. It’s a good thing that the team are honing this down, because, in all honesty, the only things preventing A Dream Play from being spectacular, even with a week to go, are a few standard penultimate week issues of the odd gabble and momentary lapses in projection. To criticise it for these issues would be like condemning San Marco’s Basilica for a bit of scaffolding on the left wall; it’s easily solvable, and a small blemish on what will otherwise be a breathtaking piece of theatrical architecture. With the grand Playhouse stage, a full orchestra, a set which involves storybook cut outs of various created ‘dreams’ interspersing and intruding on one another and an array of multicoloured costumes brightening the heightened state of reality, it’s unlikely to be your standard night at the theatre. In fact, if it all comes together in the next week, then expect the finest orgasm of imaginative fecundity. Perhaps the sort which, as Director Griffith Rees plans for the show’s effect, will ‘delight, inspire, sadden and uplift’.
Visual ejaculation aside, what’s actually going on? Agnes (Ali Walsh) is the daughter of a god, Indra (Will Hatcher), and spends her days in heaven desperate to indulge in the ‘messy’ imperfection of the human, ‘real”‘world. Resigned to her nagging, Indra commissions his Builder (Rhys Bevan) to fashion a pseudo-reality for her which she visits in a dream; hence A Dream Play. Soon, though, she will learn of the difficulties of human existence, and her hopes to leave an ennui of one human dream world is ultimate futile: in the real world, the consequences of our actions have a habit of catching up with us. She must face the ‘Dream Police’ as she tries to escape, always struggling against the confines of mortality. I wasn’t shown the ending, so can’t spoil even if I wanted to, but such a plot surely comes to a pretty monumental climax.
Beyond the obvious spectacle of A Dream Play, Rees has managed to create characters which still conform to the realism and authenticity of a more typically ‘naturalistic’ production. The relationship between Agnes and her father is wonderfully cultivated by Walsh and Hatcher and the gentle paternal humour (‘I’m omnipotent; you’re unhappy’) is suitably pitched. Similarly, the romantic interactions between Agnes and Alfie (Ollo Clark), whom she visits within his dream (there’s a dream within a dream going on here) are quite spellbinding. There’s a childlike, awkward yet loving dynamic between the two. When Clark remarks of Agnes, ‘I see beauty: the harmony of the universe’, the earnest vulnerability of his tone could not fail to move, even within the stark interior of the Corpus preview location. Walsh herself has a face that says more than many can, and the authenticity and emotional expression as she watches the happenings of the human world smacks of great skill. Bevan’s Builder too, though perhaps in danger of slipping into the odd mumble here and there, is excellently constructed, and Bevan’s resigned attitude of a commissioned yet sympathetic architect to the stage-play-world is managed with great maturity.
The niggles really are minimal (an odd note on diction, Walsh seems a bit rigid as she is taken through the dream by the (very impressive) dancing angels – who fit comfortably within David Allen’s fresh new score – and a bit of fight choreography – Alfie is ‘slapped’ by the Dream Police at one point and it could be stronger). But such ‘problems’ after another week’s polish will be non-existent. A Dream Play will tantalise, excite, confuse, arouse and affect. I’m hesitant to use this term, but if this gold star on the theatrical calendar executes what I really hope it does, it truly will be awesome.