Dance, Physical Theatre & Circus review: The Dreamer

The Dreamer's set design presents endlessly shifting locations. Picture: Yin Xuefeng
The Dreamer's set design presents endlessly shifting locations. Picture: Yin Xuefeng
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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: More than a few hearts will have sunk upon the realisation that The Dreamer is performed entirely in Mandarin, without subtitles – but I suspect they didn’t stay down for long.

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)

****

This visually stunning collaboration between England’s Gecko theatre company and China’s Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre (SDAC) conveys everything we need to know without words.

It is a fusing of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Peony Pavilion by Tang Xianzu (Shakespeare’s 16th-century Chinese peer), and it helps if you have a rough knowledge of at least the former – but even without that, there’s much to enjoy here.

The action centres on Helena, a bored, undervalued office worker whose love for Demetrius is completely ignored. We see her filing paperwork at her desk, travelling home through the rain, taking phone calls from her mother and climbing into bed. All of which sounds mundane, but in the hands of this talented troupe is a feast for the eyes.

The show scooped Best Set Design at the One Drama Awards in China, and with good reason. Constructed on two levels, with various moving parts, it’s an endlessly shifting series of locations that never fails to impress.

A good set will only take you so far, of course, but the performers of SDAC are equally strong. Ensemble routines fill the stage with dynamic movement and light, while the narrative scenes slow things down appropriately, to deliver the play’s emotional heart. The odd smattering of well-timed English is thrown in, and Shakespeare’s tale of unrequited love, potions and mischief is played out.

The Peony Pavilion is depicted via beautiful shadow work which, again, if you’re unfamiliar with the text is still enjoyable on an aesthetic level. And, perhaps best of all, The Dreamer gives Helena an empowering new 21st-century ending.

Until 15 August. Today 1:30pm.