Review: As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams

★★★☆☆

Three Stars

As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams is a student adaptation of a classical Japanese text recounting Lady Sarashina’s memoirs. The play follows her as she gets lost in the world of stories and literature to escape from this “all too solid world of ours”. Yet, as it continues, it acknowledges the futility of living through fiction as opposed to actually living through experience – something which, as an English student, I can relate to all too well. Her gradual descent into resentment, haunted by what her life could have been, is punctuated with ballet, physical acting, and a beautiful original score.

I have seen the BT Studio transformed a number of times but never quite as beautifully as the vine-decorated and dimly lit version I walked into. Katrin Padel’s lighting design cast shadows through the leaves, creating a mystical atmosphere which was to be substantiated throughout with composer Marco Galvani’s twinkling score. Somehow, the producers managed to make the usual blank space of the BT not feel incongruous with the world of Eleventh Century Japan. Also, who knew that the BT had a wooden roof?

Interwoven within the narrative of the piece were beautiful ballet compositions performed by the wonderfully talented Marta Valentina Arnaldi and Steven Doran. Ballet in such an intimate space was lovely to see and really helped convey the story and emotions told.

This flourished in the chaotic physical story-telling of the storm with the dancers circling the actors in the centre of the stage attempting to navigate their environment.

The extent of the success of the physicality was perhaps slightly detrimental to the performance, as it highlighted the weaknesses in the other sections; namely, the struggle with structure. The piece ran as an extended monologue; Lady Sarashina (Hannah Scott) narrated our voyage in and out of stories, both fictional and recalled. Scott was a very competent narrator conveying the emotions of her journey but the structural need for her constantly to be on stage meant a lack of variation between scenes.

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The remaining ensemble of actors switched in and out of characters, notably with the talented Jacob Mercer playing Sarashina’s father, lover, and husband – don’t get the wrong idea, these are distinct characters. This worked with varying success; it allowed the introduction of many distinct stories but became slightly formulaic and disjointed.

Director Laura Cull creates an ambitious piece that is beautiful in its quiet intensity. However, when this was paired with a difficult story to follow, this intensity was at times broken.

As a story of loss, of fantasies that have been cruelly pierced through by the real world, the pain of the piece was well executed, exemplified beautifully in the metaphor that “no comfort may be found in icicles”.

It was just a shame that this powerful sense of tragedy could not be maintained throughout.

As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams runs at the Burton Taylor Studio until Saturday 7th March.