“In a land where anything is possible, no imagination is too big for our dream factory. Not even yours.” This is the claim made by House of Stray Cats in the description of their latest children’s show The Dream Factory. Despite an array of structural flaws and lapses in consideration, this creative family performance delivers on this promise, conjuring through puppetry and song an abstract dream-like world full of colour and spectacle.
As the audience of children and parents enter the studio theatre, they are confronted by a bedroom scene composed of delicate white furniture, and the puppet – Sophie – already laying peacefully on her bed. The Dream Factory follows the story of Sophie as she tries to battle her frequent insomnia by imagining phantasmagorical dreams, inviting the audience to join her on a journey of surreal discovery. Sophie is manipulated throughout the performance by three aloof female actors dressed in flannel pyjamas, and for the most part, the control they exert over the several puppets in the show is intricately intelligent and entertaining. The way in which they influence the puppets to move is extremely realistic and comparable to human body language. However, when Sophie reduces in size and becomes a miniscule version of herself (a plot twist that is never explained, prompting one young audience member to ask repeatedly “but Daddy, why is she small now?”) the puppeteers struggle to maintain the same level of dexterity in their subject’s movement language. Furthermore the appearance of “mini Sophie” is problematic, as it is difficult for her to be seen by many of the audience, especially when she is surrounded by two/three manipulators.
The chronology of the show follows a simple pattern; Sophie experiences various different dream states in which she meets a melange of surreal puppet characters. She encounters an oversized spider and tightrope walks across her web; she comes across a baby elephant that continually blows his trunk at the audience, and also swims effortlessly through the air with a shoal of mesmerizing rainbow fish. Whilst these scenes are effective in isolation, and perfectly capture the imagination of the children present, the transitions between them are unclear and incoherent which can also be said for the overall storyline. Halfway through the show a motif is introduced that her dreams are emerging from bottles hidden in her bedroom shelves – which would have been more effective if it had been maintained from the beginning of the performance. One is led to believe that the main spectacle of The Dream Factory lies in the beauty of the puppets themselves, instead of the story they are conveying.
Despite the structural flaws outlined, it is undeniable that The Dream Factory is an engaging performance to introduce children to theatre. House of Stray Cats have considered various methods of engaging the younger audience, including handing out flowers (though it seems unfair to request these back from children who have become quite attached to their pink and white roses), floating fish above the audience’s heads and throwing pom-poms across the seating area. However, the claim that this is a “multisensory” performance seems a little overreaching, when your sense of touch is only engaged by a woollen ball bouncing off your head.
“Use your imagination” one father kept urging his child, an instruction that effectively summarises this performance – if you are willing to match the performer’s images with your own creative faculties; you are in for an enjoyable afternoon of entertainment.
The Dream Factory is playing The Little Angel Theatre until September 18.