Land Without Dreams – Gate Theatre, London

Writer: Tue Biering

Director (London): Lise Lauenblad

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Pushing the audience to use its imagination, breaking down the barriers between those sitting comfortably and those standing at the front, and provoking strong cognitive reactions are all applaudable in a theatre.

The ambition of Land Without Dreams is also applaudable – a wide-ranging swipe at the fears we have for the future, misplaced optimism and our hesitation before taking action that could help society, the climate or even ourselves.

The execution badly lets it down, taking these great elements and mashing them around in an hour of cod-psychology and tired stunting. Performed by a single actor, Temi Wilkey, as “The Woman” it’s broadly a play about a play. She narrates the audience’s experience of watching a performance where someone from the future comes to spread the word that change is possible, maybe. The analysis of whether the theatre stage is the right place to get the message out to the right people is clever, it’s nicely circular as it leads to questioning the play we actually watch too. Wilkey is great in this. She’s funny, really engaging to watch and it is her delivery, rather than the words, that spark any thoughts or emotions in the work.

In an effort at intimacy, the piece itself repeatedly refers to some audience members, like the “Sci-fi fan” or the couple on a first date – creating the effect of a huckster fortune teller asking audience members if they remember a man, about 30-60 years old, that they miss. If the audience clearly didn’t have these people, would the words be removed or retained regardless – either way, they’re pointless if they don’t actually mean anything to the audience they’re directed at. And as a play looking to the future, it questions blandly – painting picture over picture to confuse any message it may have had.

It relies on imagination and visualisation throughout, led by The Woman. So when she strips and covers herself in clay and slime to deliver convoluted, student-dorm philosophy about a woman who bears witness to all of time and convinces us that every point of it was, at some stage, the future, it feels like a fairly pointless addition designed to shock, nothing more.

Wilkey is good in this, there’s a lot of worth found in playing with the form of theatre works, and encouraging responsible action about the climate and society is a positive focus. However, the pointless attempt at performance art at the end, the audience communication that relied on written monologue rather than actual interaction, and the confusion about what we should care about sucks the value out of the hour-long show.

Runs until 7 December 2019 | Image: Cameron Slater 

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