Across the city, people are troubled by nightmares, each with a horribly personal symbolism of their own; their only hope is Txema Pérez, this piece’s eponymous dreamer. A drifter without a home or mobile phone, he is summoned by sufferers hanging something red in their windows. They give him food, then settle into the awkward ritual of sleeping next to him for the night, during which he enters into their nightmares, doing battle with their darkest fears to win them the prize of a peaceful night’s sleep.
The play is structured as a series of patterning episodes, each repeated in turn, to create an oddly mesmerising and soothing experience, interspersed by moments of real horror. As the nightmares progress, the actors meld from individuals into an amorphous, many-limbed monster, with a fluid and natural physicality underpinned by impressive strength and control.
Director John Michael MacDonald’s concept had a previous life in Washington DC, with an entirely different devising cast and in its London form, there’s not a trace of an American accent or theme. The performers create a bustling cross section of city life, rushing across the stage to break up the shorter individual scenes. In trying to convey the personalities colliding on the streets, and in particular, in attempting to use the dreamer’s encroachments on peoples’ lives as a form of social commentary, some of the devised characters end up looking a bit cartoon-ish. In particular, the rich characters treating him as a servant, and the litter-picker with a heart of gold are drawn with heavy hands. Introducing some diversity of age or cultural background into the nightmare-tormented sleepers would have been welcome. Still, there are some beautifully observed moments, with James Riccetto’s awkward graduate student caught between pretension and misfiring efforts at chummy sociability, and Fleur Poad’s vulnerable combination of shyness and sexual tension that is both uncomfortable and half charming to watch.
The strongest elements of this piece are its images, including the red rope pulled agonisingly from a sleeper’s chest, and the windows that surround and haunt the dreamer, each housing a fluttering cry for help. MacDonald’s notes explain that the questions keep coming the more his concept is explored, and that the devising process hasn’t got any answers. The piece creates a sustained atmosphere of heavy-lidded tension and soothing repetition, although the character of the nightmare dreamer doesn’t seem to have a past or future, and his method remains impenetrable, there’s a resolution of a sort offered by the inevitability of nightmares, and the red thread they draw through a crowd of strangers.
The Nightmare Dreamer is playing The Blue Elephant Theatre until 29 June. For more information and tickets, see the Blue Elephant Theatre website. Photograph courtesy of the website.