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Summer Day’s Dream, Finborough Theatre – Review

J B Priestley
Directed by Alex Marker
★★★ 

Pros: The post-apocalyptic British setting is intriguing. Strong character development, interwoven storylines and vivid imagery give the play a lot of interest and energy. The production standard is excellent and the stage direction is fantastic for such a small space.

Cons: Written in 1949 and set in 1975, some aspects of the play are a little dated and naïve. Some of the characters are over-romanticised which leaves them a little contrived and insincere.

Our Verdict: This is an enjoyable revival of a thought provoking play. It is astonishing how relevant the themes of nuclear war and globalisation are, more than sixty years after the play was written. Well worth seeing.

Courtesy of Finborough Theatre

I always look forward to a show at the Finborough. It’s such a friendly, welcoming venue. Add to that great production values, quality casting and a comfortable, intimate space and you are in for an enjoyable theatre outing, whatever the billing.

This time it was a revival of J B Priestley’s Summer’s Day Dream. Written in 1949, it is a futuristic play set in Britain in 1975 after the apocalyptic Third World War. Nuclear weapons have destroyed the major British cities and mass migration has left only a small population of subsistence communities, bartering for everything they need. We meet the Dawlish family, living an idyllic existence in the countryside somewhere in rural, southern England. They are living in halcyon days, young and old perfectly content and living without stress or unhappiness. Their world is disturbed by the arrival of three international visitors representing the new world order: scientific advancement from India, corporate supremacy from the US and military dominance from Russia.

There is more than a little reference to the perfection of living by socialist ideals and rigorous discussion about the evils of scientific pursuit, capitalism and military control, which is to be expected from Priestley’s writing. The devices used to tell the story are clever and relevant, although a little naïve by twenty first century standards. None the less, there is plenty of interest and humour to keep the audience engaged. Throw in some mysticism and a love story and this play is a really entertaining tale by any standard. I did find it a little cheesey at times – socialist Nirvana with only the stimulation of immediate need, nature and Shakespeare to busy the mind and the soul feels a little exaggerated. The visitors to this Eden are imbued with the evils their occupations represent – the accents and the zealousness leave them a tad caricatured and at times a little incredible.

This is reflected in the performances of some of the cast: in delivering these parodied roles, at times they lack the contrast and depth required to make the characters ring true. That said, it’s a strong ensemble that work well together to bring the story to life. There are some standout performances – I thoroughly enjoyed Kevin Colson’s portrayal of Steven Dawlish. Colson fills the stage, delivering the role of the wise and knowing patriarch with gentle yet convincing eloquence. Tom Grace plays the young Christopher Dawlish with an eccentric energy and infectious vigour – you just can’t help liking him. Considering the diminutive size of the stage, the set design and stage direction are excellent in bringing us firmly into a ramshackle yet cared for manor house and gardens and the lighting and sound design aptly support the atmosphere.

The themes of globalisation, scientific advancement and democracy within Summer’s Night Dream are very relevant today, and it is particularly curious to compare Priestley’s 1949 vision of technological and scientific advancement with what we know of the seventies and the current day. This is an interesting and thought provoking play and well worth a visit to the charming Finborough Theatre to see.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Summer’s Day Dream runs at The Finborough until 24th September 2013. 
Box office: +44 0844 8471652 or book on line at http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2013/summer-days-dream.php

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