Edinburgh Fringe 2016
In 2009 a body washed up on a beach in Ireland. Using CCTV and other sources the police tried to identify him, and failed. A Dream of Dying gives this unknown man a name and story.
In A Dream of Dying writer Treasa Nealon creates a poignant and engaging story for man whose body washed up on a beach in Ireland in 2009. Using CCTV footage and interviews with local residents, the police pieced together a bizarre story of his final hours; buying envelopes that were never posted, giving fake addresses to hotels, disposing of his worldly belongings across various waste bins dotted across the small seaside town of Sligo in Ireland. But they never managed to identify him.
Peter Bergmann (as she names him) rather likes the girl who serves him coffee each morning and that starts him planning his future – college, steady girlfriend, job, marriage, children, grandchildren until… ‘Do you know how you want to die? I do. Old, content, fulfilled, surrounded by loved ones’. Only in reality he plans something else entirely. The title is a little misleading as it is less dreaming than planning; there is a sense that this is a man who wants to be in control of his future, who fears uncertainty. He works out all the details in order to stay in control.
The writing is witty and layered; his life story embedded in the plans he is making so we move between the past and the future, almost never pausing in the now. In creating a backstory for a real person Nealon explores some of the complex issues surrounding suicide (the single biggest cause of death in men aged under 45 in the UK) without judgement or over simplification and there is a sense that, although entirely fictional, the story honours the unknown man on that Irish beach.
Lawrence Boothman gives an excellent performance; his storytelling is sharp and versatile, flicking between a multitude of characters in the blink of an eye. Making eye contact with the audience and occasionally taking the story off the stage into the auditorium draws the audience in. There is plenty of humour in the piece and he makes the most of that, providing contrast in pace and mood as the story develops.
David Shopland, the director and designer, makes good use of the tiny stage and a simple range of props and set dressing. Particularly poignant is the grand ordering of Peter’s belongings into a neat row on the beach.
Overall, it is a powerful piece of storytelling about wanting to be in control, to manage one’s own fate.