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The Theatreguide.London Review

Land Without Dreams
Gate Theatre   Autumn 2019

More a prose poem and theme-and-variations than a conventional monologue play, Land Without Dreams is an uneven mix of evocative communication, self-conscious and self-congratulatory cleverness and opaque private symbolism. It makes its points, but sometimes in spite of itself.

The credits list displays a particularly linear sequential collaboration: 'created by' the Copenhagen theatre company Fix&Foxy, written and directed by Tue Biering, translated from the Danish by Sophie H. Smith, directed in London by Lise Lauenblad, performed by Temi Wilkey.

The subject is the future, and exhortations to be hopeful about it. The future may not resemble any utopia we can imagine, but it will definitely not be a dystopia.

Above all, it will be positive: 'In the future people start believing in the future.'

The seventy-minute piece is at its strongest when the actress alone on the bare stage addresses this point directly, as when she asserts that some of the people here in this theatre audience will do great things – discover a vaccine, master the violin – but that all will lead richer lives as a result of listening to her.

A particularly effective sequence has her switching from the voice of the future to one from the past, predicting wonders to come (man will walk on the moon, women will vote), and the message is clear: knowing all those predictions came true, we should have faith in her image of our own future.

As I've mentioned, part of the play's mode is to acknowledge that it is a play in a theatre with an audience, and the speaker repeatedly describes what is happening as it happens – 'She looks out at the audience' – or as she imagines it happening – 'One of you is thinking “This is why I never go to the theatre”.'

The device grows old very quickly as the actress has to strain harder and harder for the easy laughs.

Meanwhile, some of the actions required very specifically in the text and the playwright's stage directions seem more meaningful to her than they ever are to us. The speaker repeatedly stops, abruptly leaves the stage, and then returns, the punctuating moments signifying less than was evidently intended.

At one point the actress strips and covers herself in clay (suggesting a common humanity?) and at another pours slime over herself and writhes around on the floor (rebirth? metamorphosis?). But as my guesses suggest, the symbolism is too private to be effective.

Performer Temi Wilkey holds the stage with authority and navigates the repeated shifts in style, mode and tone more successfully than you might think possible.

But even she can't make it all hang together, and Land Without Dreams remains a small collection of strong moments amid too much that doesn't quite work.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Land Without Dreams - Gate Theatre 2019

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