Review: A Dream Play
Cecile Blackmore | On 17, Nov 2014
How do you stage a dream? ARISE Theatre company resurrected August Strinberg’s little-seen surrealist vision A Dream Play at Metro Arts’ Studio from Friday 7th November to Sunday the 9th.
It was jarring, stumbling out of Metro Arts onto the Saturday night scenes of Edward St, past cackling processions of hens’ nights and the unwashed charm of the Vic, when you’ve just been drawn into the world of A Dream Play.
The original play was penned in 1901 by Swedish playwright August Strindberg. He referred to it as “the child of my greatest pain,” originally penning it during a near-psychotic episode in which he believed witches were plotting to murder him.
Emerging creative collective ARISE Theatre Company have been in intense rehearsal, in residence at Fortitude Valley’s youth space Visible Ink since April. This might seem an excessive amount of time until you consider that the ensemble of seven play a total of over forty characters between them.
“Time and place do not exist… a mixture of memories, experiences, free associations, incongruities and improvisations. The characters split, double, multiply, evaporate, condense, disperse, assemble,” wrote Stridberg in his preface. Ever since its first performance in 1907 it’s been claimed that because of the surrealist, dreamlike nature of the play – how do you stage a dream? A satisfactory production would be near-impossible, but the actors rose to the challenge with great energy and sensitivity.
The play follows Agnes, daughter of the Vedric God Indra, as she descends to Earth and witnesses a wide range of human suffering. Lead actress Kylie Stephenson took to this physically and emotionally demanding role with passion and precision, and the cast echoed this strength. The show’s director/producer Willem Whitfield had been forced to assume the major role of The Poet late in rehearsal proceedings but carried the character of the flamboyant dreamer, as well as a host of others, with great charisma and comic timing. Jack O’Brien is frightening at times as the thwarted, desperate Lawyer and Truly McCandless is a commanding presence as she transcends from crotchety school teacher to pompous noblewoman. The cast enacted the distressing extremities of emotion, from love to despair and accents and mannerisms are switched seamlessly in a matter of seconds, as newlyweds plummet merrily to their death while a soldier grows old waiting for a lover who never comes.
The back of the program boasts an ominous, almost tantalising disclaimer that “no one involved in the production condones any of the prejudices exhibited in this play”. Many of the themes on display remain relevant to this day – class struggle, broken homes, gender discrimination, and somehow seem more coherent presented in this dream format, where characters take upon other forms in an instant and voices call from nowhere and are gone.
A unique addition to the play was original composition by Sasha Čuha and ARIEL dotted throughout, furthering the otherworldly reverie in the show’s intimate setting.
Strindberg’s long, expressionist passages have the potential to lose their clarity in a sea of words and sometimes cause the play to lose its thread, but the strong individual performances and the deftly-staged movement help to set things back on track. Comic relief comes as – well, a relief in places as the dream grows melodramatic and frightening, but the dedication to Strindberg’s mad vision shines through, creating an piece that stays with you for some time after the final curtain.