The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

Laurence Boswell, adapted from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s short story
Marylebone Theatre, London

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Greg Hicks Credit: Mark Senior
Greg Hicks Credit: Mark Senior
Greg Hicks Credit: Mark Senior

Society may be rotten, but we are taught to blame ourselves. It’s not the powerful looting their way to the world's destruction that en route is causing our misery, but our individual failure to fit in.

One such individual is the unnamed character given a fine performance by Greg Hicks in Laurence Boswell’s lyrical adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s short story as a moving seventy-minute monologue.

The account takes the original 19th-century St Petersburg setting to 21st-century Hackney, where the isolated character lives in a one-bedroom flat.

A large suitcase lit by a spotlight stands in the centre of the otherwise empty, darkened stage. Greg Hicks, in a casual light shirt and trousers, arrives. Initially sitting on the suitcase, he tells us he has just lost his job in a Dalston second-hand bookshop and has been “dumped” by his girlfriend.

Visiting the Duke of Wellington pub, he overhears a racist conversation about stopping the boats coming in.

He believes he is a ridiculous man, and three months earlier had decided to kill himself, for which purpose he kept a gun by his bedside. As he walks home, an eight-year-old girl rushes up to him pleading with him to help her mother. He refuses, and with harsh words tells her to go away.

Back in his flat with the pistol beside him, he falls asleep, dreaming of his death, his funeral and then being taken on a journey across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean to an island he describes as an Eden, a Paradise, where people care for each other with “kindness, compassion and love” without doubt or petty morality.

“They live without hierarchies. There are no rich and poor… They don’t even have a word for god.”

All this changes when he accidentally teaches them to lie. It triggers a whole series of events which seem to take us through the history of a country like the UK with its reference to slavery, social conflict, the rise of oligarchs, horrific changes to the climate and the emergence of a far-right populist leader who reminds you of Trump.

Waking, he vows to behave differently, helping the little Kurdish girl and her mother, talking to others about the island he first encountered and his belief that we needed to “love one another.”

Greg Hicks's performance is special, from his riveting vocal expressions to his at times almost balletic physical movements.

This gently uplifting journey in its dreamlike conversion of a despairing man to one inspired by ideals of kindness and compassion resembles Dickens’s Christmas story of Scrooge. It recognises that we are not isolated, doomed individuals without power, but active participants in a society we can make and change for the better.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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