For the uninitiated, Caryl Churchill’s adaptation of Strindberg’s A Dream Play would sound challenging. It is the story of Agnes, daughter of a Vedic god, descended to earth in order to witness the toils of daily life in a series of fleeting, disjointed impressions. However, this production, directed by DU Players’ Katherine Murphy and Maisie Richards Cottel, takes a complicated premise and renders it effective and moving.
A number of factors coincided to make the play enjoyable. There is obvious talent among this year’s newcomers to the DU Players scene, and some supporting roles were especially striking. Claire Ingraham gave a fraught performance, Luke Casserley’s character had gravity and a convincing stage presence, Keeva Farrelly was darkly comical as a despairing schoolteacher, to name but a few. Devina Sharma, in the lead as Agnes, was impressively consistent in what must be a demanding role. Interrogating the bizarre behaviour around her, she managed to function alternately as a dramatic foil to provide constancy, and a bewildered voice to add to the chaos.
The blocking heightened our sense of the surreal. Whether the actors were positioned in swaying lines, facing the audience while gathered before an imaginary doorway, or split off into a series of physical fights, the play was intensely visual.
Played as it was by all-new actors, a flawless performance would be impossible. Delivery was occasionally rushed, and there were pauses in which it seemed that lines had been momentarily forgotten. However, the script is disorienting by nature, centering on repetitive dialogue and a dreamlike lack of context. Any confusion on the actors’ part was difficult to discern, as it blended in with the play’s fragmented quality.
Aesthetics played an equally large part in A Dream Play’s charm. The set was visually beautiful, hung with tattered screens of a diaphanous blue and silver cloth, in which objects such as mismatched shoes and scrubbing-brushes hung on strings. The costumes suggested a faded grandeur; elegant shirts and waistcoats in pale colours, gauzy dresses. The set was minimal, avoiding props, but the effect of this was not austere – instead, it suited the play’s fluidity. All of this was accompanied by an ethereal soundtrack, which consisted of repeating fragments of delicate music and the sounds of far-off applause. The gentle lighting added to our sense that we were privy to a shadowy interior dreamscape.
I did not expect A Dream Play to work in practice, and I was pleasantly surprised.
Alicia Byrne Keane