Paragon Dreams is precisely what its title invokes. It drifts dreamlike through spoken word sequences and creative technical expression. In many ways, it expresses the pinnacle of what theatre is capable of. It is dynamic and highly theatrical, its storytelling is slick, clever and expertly crafted. Two parts mystery one part family drama, it pulls the audience through a cyclical maze of twists and turns.
Hester Ullyart’s performance is breath taking. A writer-performer, she carries the production with vigour and works in seamless synergy with the many outstanding production elements contained within this show. Within the play’s run time she leaps through a multitude of characters, supporting her verse with a multitude of voices. Her performance is sometimes physical, sometimes lyrical. Even if the occasional word is fumbled, she dexterously manages each beat with excellent style.
It is in style, perhaps, that Paragon Dreams is strongest. It shunts its audience through dream-like sequences in delicately crafted verse. Mark Babych’s direction allows for a delicate balance between realism and high theatricality to play out in a sweet spot where neither is out of place. What is exemplary is how Ullyart’s performance interplays with the light, sound and projection so that the play hardly feels like a one woman show at all but rather an ensemble cast of light and sound. The carnival dreamscape of Jess Addinall’s lights creates the sense that the world of Ullyart’s show is one not entirely ours while Matthew Clowes’ sounds throw us out into strange soundscapes only to draw us back to the concrete reality of a voice at the end of a phone line. What has been created in Paragon Dreams is a truly consistent world, the likes of which can only be seen in a theatre.
For all its masterful execution, however, I cannot help but feel that something is lacking. The storytelling, while deft, is missing a sense of connection. A screen seems to have been erected between the stage and myself. It ought to be guttural, visceral. At its best it is, but it is generally more cerebral. I sympathise with the characters and the stories they tell but do not truly find it within myself to empathise. I remain unmoved, a passive observer. It is the show’s technical proficiency that wows me, rather than an engagement with the story being told.
All that being said, Paragon Dreams is an impressive work of theatre. For those audiences that enjoy experimental theatre, engaging with all elements of stagecraft, it is a veritable pleasure. It is 60 minutes of masterful performance and thoroughly deserves to be called art.
Paragon Dreams is playing the Hull Truck Theatre until 4 May. For more information and tickets, see the Hull Truck Theatre website.