“No dream is just a dream”
Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story is perhaps best known as the novella that was filmed by Stanley Kubrick as Eyes Wide Shut and allegedly sounded the death knell for the marriage of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Anna Ledwich has adapted it for the Gate Theatre, also serving as director, turning the story into a “part odyssey, part freak out, part nightmare, part psychological thriller” as we delve deep into the sexual imagination of early 20th century Vienna.
Well-to-do doctor Fridolin and his wife Albertine return from a party in high spirits and start to confess fantasies to one another, of imagined affairs with other people. But something is awry, he rejects her sexual advances and as he is summoned to a house call, he enters into a long dark night following his impulses as he is propositioned by patients’ daughters, visits a prostitute, attends a masked orgy, all populated by a set of characters whose faces seem to recur again and again, suggesting that the dividing line between real life and imagination has been significantly blurred.
And this is where the production is very strong, mixing fantasy and reality so that everything seems to take place in a dream-world, Adrienne Quartly’s sound design expertly guiding the mood of this increasingly nightmarish scenario. Using a small cast and having them play multiple roles up, whilst a necessity, is very effective: several of the women Fridolin encounters look like his wife, etc. But because the whole piece is played at this same pace, of twisted ponderous surrealism, I found it just too vague and sluggish.
One of the main problems was I felt that as the pair at the heart of the play, Luke Neal and Leah Muller were just too young, even bland, to really convince as a jaded couple, Muller in particular not able to give the sense of ‘experience’, rather veering closer to petulance for me. Thus, I didn’t find myself entwined in their dilemmas but rather exasperated with the whole thing. What taxed me the most was the fact that the marital bed was far too small for the towering Neal to have ever fit into with any degree of comfort, and when that is the thing that dominates the mind whilst sitting through a show, then something isn’t right (although whether it is the play or me, I don’t know…) I’ll be very interested to hear what others made of this.