Rarely is a fringe production as ambitious as The Dreamer. Gecko has teamed up with the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre for a full-scale retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with influence from its Chinese counterpart, The Peony Pavilion. The mammoth production feels like it may have been more suited to one of the festival theatres, but it was a real treat to have it part of the fringe.
The innovative direction had all the hallmarks of a Gecko piece, with exquisite physical theatre and dance, beautiful original music and a meticulous ensemble. Their unique style worked unanimously for The Dreamer, taking the audience on a dreamlike escape into Shanghai.
The complex plot melded Gecko’s trademark style with traditional Chinese story telling, including enthralling shadows. The less well-known ancient tale of forbidden love and parental control, The Peony Pavilion, worked well within Shanghai life. Set today, The Dreamer took inspiration from the twenty-something year old ‘left over women’ of Shanghai who are branded such because they are not married. There is even a Shanghai marriage market where anxious parents and friends try to match their children. The directorial decision not to translate from Mandarin was bold and meant the dance really took centre stage. It did however result in a plot that was a challenge to follow.
The antagonist of this story is Helena, one of Bard’s most confused young lovers. Within the Shanghai landscape this helped emphasise the pressure Helena had from her parents who shout down the phone that she needs to marry. It also goes some way in explaining Helen’s obsession with love as her mind drifts from her mundane office job into a dream of romance.
Yang Ziyi excels in the role, playing Helena with a sweet, fragile sadness and then an inner fire as she begins to assert herself against her parents and lover. The rest of the cast buzz about the stage as an innovative ensemble, executing exquisite dances and manoeuvring Cui Haigang’s adaptable and evocative set, ensuring the dream on stage never falters.
Overall this was a beautiful amalgamation of two classic tales and two alternative theatrical schools of thought, leaving the audience in a dreamlike state, having witnessed a piece of theatre far beyond the expectations of any average fringe goer.