The Dreamer review at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh – ‘stylish, seamless stuff’

Gecko Theatre Company's The Dreamer Gecko Theatre Company's The Dreamer
by -

The Dreamer is Gecko’s first international co-production. Produced in collaboration with Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, it mashes together Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu’s roughly contemporary The Peony Pavilion in a whirlwind of dance and striking visuals.

The weight is on the Shakespeare, and on Yang Ziyi’s timid, office-bound Helena, as she forlornly pines for Demetrius and dreams of Du Liniang, the ill-fated heroine of Tang’s play.

Rich Rusk’s production – the European premiere – whisks us between worlds: Helena’s boxy office, a pumping nightclub, Tang’s peony garden and the sprite world of Oberon and Titania, who serve not just as architects of Helena’s desires, but as whispering, cackling scene-shifters throughout.

It’s a predictably classy show, Rhys Jarman’s industrial design moodily lit by Chris Swain, and the swirling action scored with crashing, crescendoing passion by Dave Price – with live, virtuoso violin from Ni Peiwen.

But although there are beautiful moments galore – The Peony Pavilion’s narrative plays out entirely through superbly choreographed shadow-play, a montage of Helena’s depressing, drudge-filled day-to-day life is captivatingly repetitive – there aren’t any utterly transcendent sequences, no totally heart-stopping visuals.

It’s stylish stuff with a strong subtext, as you’d expect, but it doesn’t pack a knockout punch.

Gecko and Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre's co-production seamlessly stitches Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu into a whirlwind piece of physical theatre