Peter Green is in France and couldn’t attend the opening night of Dreamers at fortyfivedownstairs. But had been looking forward to it so much he arranged for two women to go in his place – one in her 70s (that’s me, Marysia Green) and one in her early 20s (Charlotte Righetti). With orders to forward him our impressions right away and share them with 3MBS listeners. So here they are.
A sense of anticipation was palpable when we entered the pleasantly distressed former warehouse that is fortyfivedownstairs. The collaboration of writer Daniel Keene and Ariette Taylor , whose joint Project about a decade ago created theatre pieces still talked about with admiration, was about to be renewed. The set, by Adrian Chisholm, was both beautiful and intriguing – a neat bed-sit, a cafe, work spaces, all hinted at in a free-flowing arrangement across the large performing space. A pianola player pumped the beast to give us renderings of Frank Sinatra songs. Aussie characters gathered round and sang and the audience joined in, unbidden. Who were these people? What was going happen between them?
Well, between most of them, not much at all – a drunken fumble, an outburst of rage. They were sad, angry and isolated. Today’s Australians left empty and confused in a consumerist society and dreaming of a past that never was, where everyone may have been kept in their place, but at least had a place to be kept in. And knew their neighbours. And had a decent job. And a community to be part of, not just an economy. Each and every one of these precisely etched cameos hit disturbingly recognisable notes and a lot of humour. We knew them, we’d maybe even been them at times? So their turning on the stranger in their midst, a new migrant of colour, and the poorest of them, the seamstress, hit like a hammer.
‘Dreamers’ centres around the utterly convincing, nuanced and deeply moving performance of Helen Morse as the solitary piece-worker – neglected, yet frequently used by her daughter as a baby-sitter of last resort. She takes pleasure where she can find it, from a walk on the sun, or a break from work to feed her dreams of other places and other lives by reading or listening to a good radio program. But she’s aware she is invisible. She’s an old woman. Her kindness to the migrant – lending him money for a stamp to write home – leads to a love affair. She’s not invisible any more. She talks back. The migrant , played by Yomal Rajasinghe, returns kindness with kindness and keeps the worst of his humiliations from her. He remains something of an enigma to the audience, as well. How dare these two, so low on the totem pole, be happy? Everyone turns nasty.
Charlotte and I left the show sharing a feeling that maybe Dreamers worked almost too well. Surely we’re a little bit better than that now, my young companion said. I think the trouble was that the ray of hope of the end of the play, which I can’t reveal, did not convince us. Maybe it was not intended to? Just another dream that may or may not come true?
Ariette Taylor’s direction led to certain images, (spoiler alert again prevents my detailing them – let’s just say rubbish bins were involved in one) being burned into our minds, and they will not easily fade.
Go to see Dreamers at fortyfivedownstairs. Book while you still can.