Dream School tackles some highly interesting and lesser seen concepts in the theatre scene. Its central character, Betty (Jennie Eggleton) takes a fresh look at traumatic events from her past, unintentionally dragging up with it a lot of emotional baggage. The production seems to have been developed in a way that is mindful of traumatic experiences, for instance with characters experiencing a range of emotional responses as repressed memories. There is also a designated safe space within the venue for those who may be negatively affected by this content.
Dream School asks some truly challenging questions: who should tell traumatic stories? Where do we draw the line between victim and perpetrator? How can people move on from a troubled past? The show presents a range of complex characters and is not afraid to delve into difficult territory, notably sexual exploitation and the notion of a family member being an abuser. This is a fascinating piece of writing, and fits well within the zeitgeist of mental health discussions. Particular commendation goes to its ability to demonstrate different perspectives of the same situation through various figures without character development overwhelming the narrative.
The storytelling and pacing here are skilfully executed, with a slow yet engaging process of building up and then revealing the events of Betty and her fellow students’ pasts. There are blurred lines between heroes and villains, and non-chronological jumps from past to present that reflect the often disrupted nature of traumatic memory. It feels as though there is a mystery unravelling for the audience to discover, however it soon becomes clear that Betty has a substantial amount of her own psyche to resolve.
Use of music and props helps to create a multifaceted experience, with for instance a particular song acting as a memory trigger. There are some avant-garde direction choices in this performance involving movement and music that come across as hit and miss. Non-naturalistic use of body language does create an effect of alienation, however at times feels playful in an unbecoming way. Nonetheless, there are moments of brilliance that added to the overall sinister slow burn of the production, with a stand-out moment being the use of a blackout to induce a trauma response in two characters, demonstrating involuntary physical trauma responses. This captures the physical weakness and vulnerability of their situation in a sensitive yet realistic way.
Dream School is a story that will leave you in both shock and contemplation, tackling dark issues and an uncomfortable moral grey area. It is a thought-provoking and impactful production that with polishing could be elevated to new heights.
Producers – Mrs C’s Collective and Space Productions
Writer – Francis Grin (she/her)
Director – Charlotte Everest (she/her)
Dream School plays at The Space until Saturday 3 June. Further information and bookings can be found here.