Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A Dream Play
I am not sure whether Strindberg would recognise this new version at the Cottesloe as his play and I think Caryl Churchill too might be perplexed. The programme credits not just Caryl Churchill but Katie Mitchell and the company with some of the additional material. What he would recognise I am sure is much biographical material from the playwright's own life: the dysfunctional marriage between a shipping magnate of aristocratic descent and a former tavern waitress who were Strindberg's parents, and the death of his mother when he was just 13. All three of Strindberg's failed marriages feature in some part of this version.
Katie Mitchell explains that she wanted to make the production as close to a dream as possible. To this end, the actors in preparation tried to stage dreams that they had heard about or read about in books. These dream sequences have been used in the play to link scenes and to smoothly change the scenery, often using dance or ballet in those curious scenarios that could only occur in a dream. In the programme Katie Mitchell explains that these linking scenes have grown in importance to now when they are "a substantial part of what you will see."
The first scene, set in an office, sees the female secretaries in wide skirted dresses and with their hair in French pleats, transpose into a troupe of angels. They grow feathered wings and tremble and quiver until the entrance of the office cleaners breaks the dream moment. Later, all of the cast, including the men, in white net ballet dresses perform from classical ballet. Men dressed as female ballerinas raise wry smiles and a few chuckles from the audience. A couple of times, the director makes the cast "fast forward" to the sound of a whirring, squeaking video tape, their jerky movements looking like those speeded up sequences.
Katie Mitchell is an exceptionally imaginative director who can translate her creativity to the stage. Time and time again we admire her ingenuity, as angels drive on rows of desks as if they are hostess trolleys or sway them as if they are ships on the ocean. She has set A Dream Play in the 1950s, midway between Strindberg's era and our own but one in which the social class boundaries were still delineated, especially between servants and their employers. This works too in distancing A Dream Play from our present age. Alfred the broker (Angus Wright) is the main character or dreamer. He falls asleep in the office and the dream play follows as, after his wife has left him, he is led back into his past by his angel guide Agnes, his secretary (Lucy Whybrow). Agnes takes him back to his childhood where he sees the suffering and infidelity of his mother Christine (Anastasia Hille) and re-examines his parents' marriage.
The ensemble cast are outstanding in what is at least partially a devised piece of theatre. Anastasia Hille agonises as the troubled mother, Angus Wright is bemused as Alfred and Lucy Whybrow is sweetness personified as everyone's dream angel. The use of beautiful classical music with Willy Nelson's "Crazy" and some popular music adds to the surreal quality of the production. A Dream Play is full of parallels from Strindberg's life to explain the figure of Alfred alone, alienated, disappointed in marriage and reaches a Wagnerian climax. An inventive hundred minutes of theatre.
Editor's Note: For a review of another innovative staging of this play go here.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.