Marianne Dreams

Catherine Storr, adapted for the stage by Moira Buffini
Almeida Theatre

Production photo

Marianne Dreams is a combination of music, dance, multimedia show and text. Its problem is that the attractions are very much in that order, which for those who enjoy a good story, including the many children attracted by the staging of a much loved novel, may not be good news.

Director/choreographer Will Tuckett's production lasts a mere 75 minutes and visits 10-year-old Marianne, a girl struck by a high fever that gives her hallucinations which turn into heady dreams and on occasion, nightmares.

During her out of body experiences, she seemingly creates and then "meets" Mark, a boy with polio that threatens his life and probably suggests, as do the costumes, that the play is set in the 1950s when the book was written.

Marianne visits Mark on a regular basis, at serious risk to her health while her good-humoured mum, Sarah Malin, is flirting with the doctor and Siubhan Harrison's tall elegant Miss Chesterfield, a trendy governess to both children, can only watch with alarm.

Not surprisingly, it is the dream experiences that are the highlight of the show, allowing Selina Chilton to emerge from Marianne's sick bed and into a whole new world, to show off modern dance steps. These accompany Paul Englishby's atmospheric and sometimes moving music, played on keyboards and violin.

With polio, Mark Arends as Mark has fewer chances to dance but acts nicely, his character's fear-filled maturity contrasting with the dreamy little girl's mixture of childishness and good-natured concern.

At several points, the video art and projection designs of Lorna Heavey gloriously overwhelm us, particularly when in a dream, hungry Mark asks Marianne to come up with some tempting food, which she does unforgettably in glorious, childlike Technicolor.

These scenes also complement Anthony Ward's simple sets, in marbled grey and white that give way to cartoon like drawings and allow the sick bed to slide around the sloping stage.

The drama builds to an exciting chase scene that is undoubtedly the highlight of the evening, at last combining all of the elements to great effect.

While Will Tuckett's production has moments of great beauty, far too little takes place to fill even such a short running time and one fears that by the end, children might well be echoing Oliver Twist's famous request "Please, sir, I want some more".

Playing until 26 January 2008

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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