Brighton Festival 2010
Before I Sleep
Venue: Co-op Department Store
Dreamthinkspeak re-imagine Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard in the unlikely location of an abandoned Co-op department store. Site-specific and promenade it is quite an experience.
It is certainly fair to say that Before I Sleep is one of the hottest tickets of the Brighton Festival this year. Artistic Director Tristan Sharps’ reputation precedes him, as he has premiered two previous shows (Don’t Look Back and Underground) in the Brighton Festival.
There is no denying that the vision of Dreamthinkspeak (DTS) is extraordinary – few people could look at the abandoned monolith of the ex Co-op department store on the less than salubrious London Road and see the potential for beauty and art. However, this is exactly what DTS do, they transform buildings into theatres, exploratoriums and galleries – leading the audience on fantastical journeys into hidden nooks and crannies.
Before I Sleep starts in a drafty lorry bay, with one of the cleanest Portaloos in Sussex laid on for patrons. In group of three you are led through a door, where an old man in a nightshirt greets you. What follows should be experienced first hand and won’t be ruined by this reviewer’s prose. However, I have to confess to being disappointed by the similarities between this piece of work and DTS’s other shows. Clearly all theatre companies have a style which is bound to manifest itself in every performance, but having seen One Step Forward One Step Back at Liverpool Cathedral (part of their capital of culture celebrations) certain themes, props, musical refrains and video projections could have been lifted straight out of storage.
Obviously there were huge differences too – the setting was exciting in that you were able to see behind the scenes in a building once so familiar – the childlike thrill of being able to ‘discover’ a space that no one else has access to. It was also interesting to see how fast nature had begun to claim the wreckage of the store – the permeating smell of damp and fallen down plaster was melancholy and very in keeping with the theme of loss which pervades The Cherry Orchard. There were also wonderful, secret moments – finding yourself in the department store showroom, being talked at in all tongues by a multitude of talented actors, and illicitly exploring behind the curtain of a dressing room, only to enter the spooky world of a dummy-store, complete with a muttering figure from another age. It’s marvelous because I’m sure very few people work out it’s there.
There was a time when DTS were pioneers of this form of site-specific promenade theatre, however the recent fervor for creating theatre outside the traditional confines means there is far more competition and room for comparison – favourable or unfavourable. Punchdrunk are one such company whose extended run at the BAC was so praised that some could say they have overtaken DTS’s reputation. Perhaps DTS and Brighton Festival hope to claim back the crown with Before I Sleep, but I think before the title can be won, DTS need to start thinking of some new ideas and recapture the magic and wonder found in their earlier productions.