Writer: Amelia Gann
The publicity material for Amelia Gann’s agreeable one-woman show, Dreamworld, does not reveal how she conceived the idea for her central character: a narcissistic sociopath Zumba instructor. But based on the out-and-out maliciousness with which writer and performer infuses her all-too-believable protagonist, the idea may well have germinated during a particularly hard dance workout at her local Virgin Active. Wherever the idea originated, Gann’s 50-minute show, playing at the Camden People’s Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe, is a cleverly penned and inventively witty treat.
Leotard-clad Cathy Campbell is Deeside leisure centre’s longest serving dance teacher. Sadly, she is not happy in her job. In fact, underneath the rictus grin and jovial demeanour rests a bitter sense of resentment and disappointment, born of unrealised childhood dreams of appearances on TV dance-offs. The immobile senior citizens and snobby ex-actors who frequent her classes do not contribute much to building her sense of self-esteem.
Agoraphobic partner Patty tries to help. But fruitless searches for auditions and casting calls over cups of camomile tea only serve to remind an angry Cathy that she is never going to match up to mum Angela’s success as an ‘80s aerobics video queen. Just as she begins to reconcile herself to a future of dance monotony, accompanied by the beats of salsa, flamenco, and merengue, Cathy spies an opportunity. The local village fair is looking for amateur acts to entertain weekend crowds, and there is a prime slot free directly after the performing ferrets and before the tap-dancing frog routine. Could this be Cathy’s big break?
Writer and performer Gann has devised a pleasing circular storyline and gives her protagonist enough of a bittersweet childhood backstory to make her sheer unpleasantness credible. Being mistaken for Ellen DeGeneres when dressing up as Howie from the Backstreet Boys can clearly do terrible things to a kid. She is also a talented actor and gifted visual comedian. The characters are clearly differentiated, not always easy in a monologue, and there is a classy parody of contemporary dance styles to enjoy.
If there is a flaw in Dreamworld, it is that the tone of the writing, gentle and melancholic mockery, at times does not quite match the diverting nastiness of the unfolding narrative. But plenty to appreciate, nonetheless.
Runs until 14 August 2022
The Camden Fringe runs from 1-28 August 2022