Saturday, 13 September 2014

Theatre review: The Dreaming

No, The Dreaming isn't a musical theatre adaptation of The Sandman - I don't even know if you should feel relieved or disappointed by that. In fact Howard Goodall and Charles Hart's musical transplants the story of A Midsummer Night's Dream to a rural part of England in 1913. The names have changed but the plotlines are much the same: Charlotte (Holly Julier) has run away to marry Alexander (Alastair Hill) followed by David (Joshua Tonks) who also loves her, and Jennifer (Rachel Flynn,) who loves David. Meanwhile the local vicar (Michael Chance) is bringing together a group of locals to perform a mummers' play about Saint George slaying the dragon. Both groups find their lives complicated when they get caught in the middle of an argument between Sylvia (Daisy Tonge) and Angel (Christopher Hancock,) leaders of the magical Woodlanders.

The Dreaming was written for the National Youth Music Theatre, so although it's been around since 2001 Paul Clarkson's production at the Union is the first time it's been staged professionally in London.

Though there's the odd callback to Shakespeare's language, Hart doesn't use the original in his book much, and comes up with some interesting touches - the Woodlanders speak in a sort of Romany dialect that suggests they're less the fairies if the wood, more gypsies who know a thing or two about magical herbs. The dialogue isn't quite as funny as in the straight play, although saying Charles Hart isn't Shakespeare isn't exactly a damning criticism. Merging the characters of Puck and the stolen Indian boy into a runaway child called Jack (Simone Murphy) is interesting, but it starts to get a bit muddled with the suggestion that Sylvia/Titania is actually in love with him.

Another audience member who started talking to me in the interval found Goodall's songs derivative; maybe they are, I don't know enough about music to say, but I know they're enjoyable, full of interesting counterpoint that the cast perform strongly - "Heart of the Wood" is the first of a few numbers to really come to life. The music's maybe a bit twee but then the context is silly enough that anything else wouldn't feel right.

Like the source material, The Dreaming also really kicks into gear once love potions have been applied, the lovers are tangled up and Nick Cheek (Michael Burgen) has been turned into an animal - a goat, in this version. This story strand is dealt with a bit cursorily, and the final performance of "The Banner of Saint George" in front of the lord of manor (Richard Brindley) and his new bride (Kayleigh McKnight) goes on a bit longer than the joke. But the lovers are a lot of fun; the comic highlight of the evening is "Jennifer," in which first Hill then Tonks go hilariously misty-eyed when the potion sends their affections in a new direction. It won't set the world alight but The Dreaming is fun and filled with attractive, promising new talent (many in the cast are still at drama school or recent graduates.)

The Dreaming by Howard Goodall and Charles Hart is booking until the 27th of September at the Union Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including interval.

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