Theatre Reviews

The Dreamer Enchants Audiences At The Auckland Arts Festival

Where: The Civic Theatre, Auckland NZ
When: 24 Mar 2019
Clare Martin

Under the starry ceiling of The Civic Theatre, the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre's joint venture with UK’s Gecko Theatre Company’s The Dreamer enchanted the audience as part of the Auckland Arts Festival 2019. To begin, a minute’s silence was led by a representative of SDAC for the almost full audience as a homage to the Christchurch victims of last Friday’s massacre. This was a much appreciated moment of respect which brought us face to face with the company.

From the very first footfall, the performers bewitched us with their tale, leaping into the audience from the stage and magicking us with dancing orange headlamps. Pulling bevelled posts from the aisles of the auditorium and pausing to take cheeky selfies created immediate intrigue and engagement. The magical beings took the posts and constructed a pavilion before our eyes up on the stage to begin the unfolding of the story. Thus the actors became the action, the timbers became the stage.

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The Dreamer could be the most outstanding production of the Festival for staging, sound and lighting. The beautiful performances of the whole company from Shanghai seem to create light and sound out of their expressive movement.

Two masterpieces of writing were woven together for tonight. One from the Bard’s pen - William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream - and the other from his Chinese contemporary, a master writer - Tang Xianzu’s The Peony Pavilion. The two stories have sympathetic pathways and they were intertwined seamlessly to create new insights. To describe the reimagined plot would be to remove some mystique, instead, I urge you to discover this performance for yourself. In their own words, the company creates stories that are open to interpretation and put their audience “at the heart of their narrative’.

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Strikingly, the technical aspects of the show are so integrated as to almost arise spontaneously from the action. That takes huge work to achieve, The Dreamer could be the most outstanding production of the Festival for staging, sound and lighting. The beautiful performances of the whole company from Shanghai seem to create light and sound out of their expressive movement. Stunning shadow play was encased in glowing screens, bedroom furniture buckled and engulfed, puffs of smoke hung in the air, pools of light imprisoned, ghostly umbrellas perambulated through heavy rain. So many visual expressions delighted in their originality and charm.

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The central character Helena played by Yang Ziyi was fragile and eloquently melancholic. The company ensemble was superb throughout with astonishing fluidity of performance. Highlights include the brilliant enacting of Helena’s swipe-left and left again through photographs on her phone, the blurring of reality with surreality and dreams, Oberon in dusty overcoat and Puck as a naughty office boy, and the gorgeous moment that Titania shimmies up to a pink-eared Bottom.

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The original musical score by Dave Price was written as a collaborative process during the show’s devising. From the opening, it struck just the right note. Funky beats, percussive layers and a stunning live performance by violinist Ni Peiwen added immediacy and emotion to the evening. Sound designer Wang Yixuan added depth and meaning including reverberation on snatches of dialogue from the performers’ mics enhancing the dream-like quality.

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As a show, The Dreamer was one of the most special nights of the Auckland Arts Festival. A unique physical story-telling style and jewel-like vignettes in staging will take your breath away. 

Despite the dialogue being in Mandarin, the re-imagining was truly expressive and needed no translation. When English popped up, it was delivered with brilliant deftness and wit. Perhaps the only missing element was having access into more of the nuance and poetry of the original languages.

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As a show, The Dreamer was one of the most special nights of the Auckland Arts Festival. A unique physical story-telling style and jewel-like vignettes in staging will take your breath away. Bring your openness and a sense of wonder and you will not be disappointed.

Catch The Dreamer at the Auckland Arts Festival from Friday - Sunday, 22-24 March 2019.

Written By: Clare Martin Clare has performed as an opera, recital and oratorio artist in UK most notably the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London. In NZ she has performed with NZ Opera and with the NZ Symphony Orchestra but more recently she has moved into a wider range of contemporary genres including jazz and even Leonard Cohen. Since 2008 Clare has been teaching from her own music studio working with professional and beginner singers. In 2017 she was a mentor on TVNZ’s The Naked Choir working with a cappella choirs and she currently coaches barbershop and a woman’s ensemble.