BAZ Productions’ dreamplay promises us a ‘dream-journey to find the door behind which everything is answered.’ Unfortunately, although perhaps unsurprisingly, the production fails to measure up to this tall order. The promenade performance takes place in the unique setting of the Vaults, a maze of underground tunnels beneath Waterloo station, with individual areas representing parts of everyday life: we walk through an actor’s dressing room, a nursery classroom, and a diner, among other rooms. The realism of the settings and conversations we witness clashes with the surrealism of the action that plays out, but this tension tends towards jarring rather than revealing.
Although the scenes which make up this performance, when taken individually, are well-executed, when put together it is difficult to find any meaning. The ‘Où est Pierre?’ segment, for example, feels like something from a Luis Buñuel film, and is enjoyable as surrealist comedy in its own right. However, when one tries to place it in the context of the wider narrative of dreamplay, one struggles; there is a sense that there is a greater significance here, but we don’t know how to access it and the play doesn’t help us.
Throughout the play, there is heavy emphasis on physicality, taking us beyond the limits of normal physical behaviour to a dream-like escape from the limitations of gravity and other real-world forces. The acting cannot be faulted; every performer acquits themselves incredibly well, walking the line between comedy and gravity with skill and sensitivity. In the opening scene, Ogugua displays immense talent despite not speaking any coherent lines; her garbled speech and movements convey a sense of urgency and a pent-up something which we hope to understand as the play goes on, but which in actual fact is never quite explained.
dreamplay has all the elements of a great production – talented actors, engaging script, interesting premise – but these elements fail to coalesce into anything meaningful. The play seems to ask a lot of questions which are never answered satisfactorily, although the ending feels like it should be an answer. Many issues, from depression to substance abuse to the breakdown of relationships, are mentioned, but it feels more like they are being name-checked than actually addressed. The production is promising in many ways, and with more work on fitting the components together, could become something great. As it is, the audience is left groping in the dark (literally and figuratively) for answers which just aren’t there. It is, as promised by the programme, a ‘unique and visceral’ experience – but in this case, that isn’t enough.