Though at first disconcerted at the realisation that The Dreamer would be performed almost entirely in Mandarin, my apprehension barely lasted the first few minutes; the energetic physicality of the all-Chinese cast’s performance was enough to carry the audience through 70 minutes, hardly missing a single detail.
Created as an international collaboration between Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre and Gecko, The Dreamer is a mesmerising piece of physical theatre. An immersive soundscape combines with bold yet elegant choreography, inviting the audience into the deepest recesses of our protagonist Helena’s mind. Sometimes gloriously romantic, while at other points hilariously awkward, The Dreamer offers its audience a glimpse into the mind’s eye of a 21st century single woman.
The show blends cultural and literary history, combining William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with The Peony Pavilion by his Chinese contemporary, Tang Xianzu, in a modern setting. The sophistication of courtly love in 17th century China is blended with Shakespeare’s boisterous humour to produce a hopelessly romantic yet delightfully clumsy Helena – a character from Shakespeare’s riotous play, the unlucky-in-love protagonist and titled ‘dreamer’. Twenty-something and facing the stigma of becoming a ‘left over woman’, we watch as Helena struggles at the receiving end of mounting pressure and disapproval at her unmarried status from all angles. Helena lives a monotonous existence in a dead-end job, hopelessly devoted to her colleague Demetrius. He, in turn, pines after another colleague in a desperate and confused chain of unrequited love.
Consequently, Helena spends her days with her nose firmly rooted in The Peony Pavilion or otherwise daydreaming up her own love story. However, as her daydreams become increasingly vivid, they seemingly develop a life of their own as fantasy and reality cleverly entwine, working to soothe the complexity and increasing gravity of Helena’s situation.
The play is beautifully designed, providing some stunning visuals through use of silhouettes, atmospheric lighting and an intelligently designed set which allows a constant flow of movement throughout the dance-like performance.
Modern life and Renaissance fiction blend effortlessly in a truly remarkable display of cross-cultural awareness. An all-Chinese cast transports Shakespeare across continents and through centuries, yet still manages to retain his essential flavour, lacing the plot with his characteristically boisterous humour. A wonder to behold, The Dreamer captivates from start to finish.
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
Until 15th August
Photo credit: Yin Xuefeng