The Finborough Theatre is a wonderfully intimate space that gives no sense of grandeur or expanse upon entering the doors. It lets the drama speak for itself, in this case giving nature its time to unfurl around the audience, opening the doors to the idyllic lives of the Dawlish family, and the disruption that is about to come.
One could be forgiven for assuming – in the first ten minutes – that this piece is one set in the early twentieth century, the farmhouse-come-mansion that this family live in is mentioned to be in the country, and within moments, home-brewed beer and hard-to-find tobacco are settled on the table, bartered over and shared. This is not a pre-war pastoral play, however. We are in the midst of the twentieth century, and the Dawlish family, along with much of the British Isles, has been plunged back into pastoral England, tilling the fields and living off the land after an atom bomb destroyed every industry centre in the country. Here the people are happy, until their simplicity is interrupted by a Russian, an American and an Indian from across the borders, intent on surveying the land, and potentially exploiting the happiness of others for their own gain.
Authored by J. B. Priestley and first performed in 1949, Summer Day’s Dream is eerily forward thinking in its expositions of industry, consumption and politics, and many of the lines in the script are impressed upon a modern audience as though the creatives here want their audience to understand that the state of our world is not a new one, and is not likely to change unless the general population makes an effort to better themselves. Though, therefore, the delivery of the lines sometimes feels out of place with the rest of the play, so heavy handed in comparison to the easy joy of the recitations of Shakespeare included in some scenes, one cannot fault the actors for their portrayal of characters betrayed, romanced and tired.
Each throw themselves into the role, and though I found the exuberance and excitability of youth a little grating in Christopher and Rosalie Dawlish, both Tom Grace and Eleanor Yates brought heart to their roles with performances that showcased their abilities and impressed immensely. Give them desire or disillusionment, cold rage or open fury and they will certainly deliver. From every side, we are met with those who meet the needs of their characters. The restraint and integrity of Patrick Poletti, Helen Keeley and Peter Singh as the intrusive foreigners is well maintained, even as they evolve before our very eyes.
Though the play is a well-constructed and well-timed revival, and inspires questions in the audience of what exactly our place is in global society, and it is certainly immensely enjoyable for its performances and individual nuances, in the current group of topical pieces being performed across London, this is no glittering stand out. It is, however, enjoyable and thought provoking, and running at nearly two and a half hours (including an interval) it is certainly worth its ticket price.
Summer Day’s Dream is playing at the Finborough Theatre on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays until 24 September. For more information and tickets, see the Finborough Theatre website.