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The Theatreguide.London Review

Dreams of Violence
Soho Theatre Summer 2009; national tour Autumn 2009

Stella Feehily, author of the well-received Duck and O Go My Man, has now written some unoriginal character sketches and unrelated scenes and called them a play. They're not.

At the centre of her story is Hildy, a political activist coping with a philandering husband, a senile father, an alcoholic mother who used to be a pop singer, and a drug addict son who blames her for all his miseries.

She's trying to organise a strike of Canary Wharf office cleaners, her husband's airheaded Canadian girlfriend is stalking her, she is bothered by the titular dreams, and she's eventually going to have a heart attack.

If any of that sounds vaguely familiar, let me provide some of the footnotes for you. The invalid father and manipulative mother-from-hell were seen in Lucinda Coxon's Happy Now? and Simon Stephens' Harper Regan, both at the National Theatre last year.

The son blaming his activist mother for neglecting him was in Alexi Kaye Campbell's Apologia, just finishing at the Bush Theatre. A scene in which a couple of cleaners tie up a banker and berate him comes straight out of the 1980 film comedy Nine To Five. And so on.

But even worse than being derivative is the fact that these elements don't seem to belong in the same play.

If, as I guess, the intended subject is the way the pressures on Hildy lead to the nightmares and her eventual collapse, then the scene of the cleaners and the banker (in which they debate the causes and ramifications of the current financial crisis) is doubly irrelevant, first because the play isn't especially interested in that topic, and second because Hildy is not there to be affected by it.

A couple of sequences in which Hildy's mother drunkenly tries to recapture her youth by singing along with videos of her younger self belong in a play about her, not her daughter.

The stalking Canadian is never more than a throwaway joke, the son doesn't even show up until the last 20 minutes, and the bad dreams are only mentioned a couple of times rather than being the running theme the playwright seems to have intended.

So the result is a jumble in which the central issue - Hildy's cracking under the strain - keeps getting pushed aside for digressions that themselves go nowhere.

The usually reliable director Max Stafford-Clark seems to have been defeated by the play's disjointedness, with one small technical detail illustrating that most tellingly - I have rarely been so aware of the awkwardness and time-consumingness of scene and prop changes as I was here, the director unable to mask the play's constant jumping around in place as well as focus.

A cast led by Catherine Russell as Hildy and Paula Wilcox as her mother try admirably to hold the thing together and create some moments of reality.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Dreams Of Violence - Soho Theatre 2009


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