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Published on Monday, 09 August 2010

4 stars

Pleasance Dome (venue website)
Until 30 Aug, 5:40pm (6:45pm)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

Have you ever had a dream where you realized you were dreaming?  I have, just once, and I remember it vividly: an experience that’s unique, wonderful and surreal.  Small wonder, then, that there’s a determined group of people who try to capture that fleeting feeling each night.  And it’s in that nocturnal world of the “lucid dreamer” that Fringe favourites Three’s Company set their latest tale.

The starting point is, I’ll grant you, a little unlikely… our protagonist James lands a full-time job as an experimental subject, being paid to sleep all day and record what dreams may come.  But I’ll forgive that conceit; it’s a jumping-off point for a thought-provoking parable on the impossibility of choice, as James’s increasingly vivid dreams map out an alternate life which he could have lived for real.

A better life or a worse one, though?  None of us can say.  And this is the inspired bit: because the other characters are often figments of James’s dreams, they’re empowered to give voice to his secret doubts.  Sometimes, when he talks to (say) his mother, he’s speaking to a trusted confidant; sometimes, though, he’s debating with himself.  It’s not always clear which world he’s in, and a lot of the fun of watching Reverie lies in guessing whether this scene is real.

Heightening that sense of merged realities, there are no scene changes in the conventional sense.  Halfway through a dialogue, a new character walks onto the stage and begins to speak – and suddenly, a different conversation in a different place has begun.  It’s a clever gambit, which creates a pleasing sense of permanent dislocation and maintains a neat ambiguity about what’s reality and what’s a dream.

The ironic downside, though, is that it makes all too obvious the few occasions the procession stalls; to maintain the illusion, this really has to be perfect, and it’s not quite perfect yet.  There’s a bit of fat left to cut, as well – why do they spend so long discussing whether James’s mother is 55 or 56? – and some of the bedtime banter with James’s fiancée felt too much like a sitcom on TV.

But enough of the downside.  In his role as James, Yaz Al-Shaater does full justice to Crawshaw’s lyrical text, selling his lines to the maximum right from the opening words.  Describing his dreams, he painted a picture so vivid that – when he stared at an imagined horizon – I involuntarily turned to see it too.  Among a strong cast, Ingrid Evans was another stand-out for me, playing a range of roles with aplomb and lending understated gravitas to all of her scenes.  And (here’s a rare one) I’m going to name-check set designer Alison Neigbour, who’s devised a clever and simple way to evoke the myriad places James’s imaginings lead him to.

This is the first major outing for Reverie; it’s not yet quite the dream show it could be, but for a brand-new play it’s very good indeed.  Impeccably acted, strongly scripted and with a truly distinctive style, Three’s Company have produced another highlight for this year’s Fringe.  When word gets around, it may well sell out… so don’t be caught napping.

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