Edinburgh Fringe 2017

The Dreamer

Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre in association with Gecko

Genre: Dance, Devised, International, Physical Theatre

Venue: Pleasance


Low Down

“Inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Peony Pavilion by his Chinese contemporary, Tang Xianzu, this vibrant production uses Gecko’s trademark style to blend emotionally driven movement, a spine-tingling soundscape and striking visual storytelling to bring a new twist to these classic texts, performed by a Chinese cast. “


The Dreamer is inspired by two classic stories, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare and The Peony Pavilion by Tang Xianzu. There are some parallels to both stories blended in the new devised play, brought to life by brief visual references from Xianzu’s story and his young female protagonist, although this Dreamer focuses mainly on the Bard’s reimagined Helena.

Performed and produced by the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, they have worked in association with Gecko, the award-winning UK devising and physical theatre company. Two members of Gecko created The Dreamer, associate director Rich Rusk and devising performer Chris Evans. Therefore, the show has several hallmarks of a Gecko show, such as a complex and interesting set, inspired movement and creative visual storytelling. The cast of Chinese actors are nimble and versatile, changing characters quickly, scaling ladders to the multi level set and moving large pieces of furniture with ease in streamlined transitions. Sometimes the bedroom furniture floats, it’s very creative! The set comprises several rooms where action happens, an office where Helena works, her bedroom, a restaurant, and the home of her parents.

Helena is bored with her job and her life. This is mainly because her office job is repetitive and unfulfilling and also because she is not popular and is often left out of things by her friends. Her main rival here is Hermia, who is sweet, popular and the centre of attention. Somehow, Hermia is always surrounded by boys and one of them is the one Helena likes, so it’s complicated.

Even though the moving parts and devices are substantial in this show, many are created by the ensemble. Some elements of the parallel Peony Pavilion and Helena’s story are enacted on folding screens in shadow play. It’s all very organic, with a lamp behind the screen held by ensemble actors to make the shadows show. Another inspired idea is how a violinist plays a lot of the music sitting in her own space, a little room connected to the row of other tiny rooms. She plays dazzling violin solos and plays while accompanied by the recorded score that is pulsating and dynamic, the music suits the atmosphere and arc of the show very well.

Helena is in every scene and the actor is excellent. Her character is sensitive and feels isolated and unnoticed, and she has a range of subtle emotions with a flexible expressive movement range. There are very short scenes with dialogue in the play spoken in Mandarin and English, but there are few words needed because the show is mainly expressed by physical acting and movement.

The ensemble play all the other characters and wear interesting costumes. Lysander and Demetrius wear modern office clothes while the parents wear textured costumes of no particular time period. The main costume for the ensemble is a miner look with long overcoats and miner lamps on their foreheads. These characters double for the fairies and mechanicals of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, although they are not featured this new play. This version about dreamers has a modern twist – mobile phones are included in one scene!

The Dreamer is a visual treat! Highlights are the ensemble movement sequences, that speak so much about Gecko’s work and are so effective and visceral. It’s a large inventive show that tells a moving and relatable story with imagination and creativity.