The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings





Etcetera and
Short Term Listings



LA/San Diego






Free Updates
NYC Weather
London Review

A Dream Play

Lizzie Loveridge

I am everywhere, in the ocean which is my blood, in the hills which are my bones.
--- August Strindberg
Strindberg isn't my favourite playwright. Miserable and misogynistic, I find it hard to like his plays. Although his poetry is admirable, his themes are often too depressing. It cannot be a coincidence that Strindberg first attempted suicide at the age of eight. However when you put the very impressionistic A Dream Play in the hands of writer Caryl Churchill and director Katie Mitchell, the result is quirky and has joyful moments.

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.

A Dream Play

Written by August Strindberg
In a new version by Caryl Churchill
With additional material by Katie Mitchell and the Company
Directed by Katie Mitchell

Starring: Anastasia Hille, Lucy Whybrow
With: Mark Arends, Kristin Hutchinson, Sean Jackson, Charlotte Roach, Dominic Rowan, Justin Salinger, Susie Trayling, Angus Wright
Designed by Vicki Mortimer
Lighting: Chris Davey
Sound: Christopher Shutt
Music Director: Simon Allen
Running time: One hour forty minutes with no interval
Box Office: 0207 452 3000
A Dream Play is a collaboration between the National Theatre and the Tate Modern where an exhibition of paintings, drawings and photographs by August Strindberg is on until 15th May
Booking to 11th May 2005.
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th February 2005 performance at the cottesloe Theate, National Theatre, South Bank, Waterloo, London SE1 (Rail/Tube: Waterloo)
London Theatre Walks

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook

Tales From Shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
Our Review

metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by
's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

--> ©Copyright 2005, Elyse Sommer,
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from