Dreamless Sleep is the latest play by young writer-director Georgie Staight. It’s a cripplingly funny, raw and moving examination of a relationship between N (Niamh Watson) and H (Hannah Lawrence), whose relationship obstacle course is set to a far more sinister backdrop: Huntington’s disease – a fatal neurological disorder.
Dreamless Sleep has just finished a run in the intimate space upstairs at the Arts Theatre. With its minimalistic set consisting just of two wooden boxes, and the audience closing in on the action from three of the four stage sides, it is imperative that the story, script and acting are particularly strong to keep us fully engaged. Staight’s fast-flowing script is fuelled with powerful, well-timed broken sentences which capture both the awkward and tender moments in a relationship. These are executed so naturally and captivatingly by Lawrence and Watson they leave us hanging on every one of their words. It’s funny; when N asks H to name a crime she fantasises about committing, H’s reply – “I’d probably rob a bank, or kill a swan” – has us laughing affectionately at her, the unlikely criminal. There are plenty of signature lines too, such as: “I love you AND I like you, and that’s fucking rare”, which verbalise feelings we can relate to.
The progression from one scene into the next is clever; long stares precede smooth but snappy transitions from scene to scene. Similarly, building blocks for plot advancement are cannily and sometimes humorously laid a scene ahead: when H spills wine on the bed, we laugh knowingly because just seconds before, in the previous scene, we witnessed her contemplating whether or not to order the wine. Likewise, later in the play when N and H argue, we don’t need to see H hit N to know it happened – the drama has skipped forward to the next scene, where N is hurt and H is mortified, and we’re familiar enough with the plot blackouts and forward-flashes to deduct what has happened. Plus, we’ve previously been told H’s illness will eventually make her violent and erratic, and her behaviour here qualifies this diagnosis.
Lawrence and Watson are recent graduates from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts and, based on their performances here, are deserving of esteemed careers in the profession. Both are skilful actors, enthralling in their respective performances: Lawrence comes into her own and wrenches our hearts as she stumbles on her words and fidgets uncomfortably whilst revealing the truth about her illness for the first time, and Watson is full of passion and natural humour – carrying us with her emotions – for ultimately it is her journey we begin with, follow, and leave at the end of the play.
Dreamless Sleep is a gripping love story which shines an important light onto the reality of living with, and suffering from, a devastating neurological disorder.
Dreamless Sleep was playing the Arts Theatre until 21 September 2016. For more information, see the Arts Theatre website.