Walking into the Omnibus Theatre just off Clapham Common, I wasn’t quite expecting to encounter the colourful chaos that was waiting behind the stage door. I’ll be honest, after being asked to download a messaging app and signing up for a Dreamers passport before the show began – I can’t say I knew what to expect at all.

Ushered into what eventually unveiled itself to be a replica of a busy Hong Kong market, audience members were greeted by actors in animal caricature headgear. The masks, pixelated to tie in with the cyber theme, gave nothing away and as I took my seat I was immediately confused as to what was happening. Ten minutes of hustle and bustle later, the lights dimmed, actors removed their headgear and guests were instructed by a Big Brother-esque voice to look at their phones.

Intended to imitate the communication methods of Hong Kong protesters during the unrest in 2019, I understood what the play was trying to do, however it was the random disjointedness that cost it its impact for me. Launching into storylines with no explanation, interchanging English and Chinese, it was extremely hard to work out what was going on and the extended opening monologue about sleep and dreaming did little to clear the fog.

A mismatch of isolated narratives, this show felt like a collection of unrelated stories at times, with actors rambling to reach no clear end point. One speech led into the next and after watching an actor lying on an airbed as it inflated for five minutes in total silence, I must admit they were coming close to losing me early on. This airbed became a focal point of linkage throughout the show, where the entire cast would suddenly all pile onto the mattress and behavior in a bizarre manner, wailing, tying pajama bottoms round their heads, fanning themselves. I’m still completely at a loss as to what this element was supposed to portray – my guess being these scenes were meant to illustrate the dreaming process – but what this had to do with protests or Hong Kong, I have no idea.

The script continued, with glimpses of promise arising as things drew near to closing. Acting out some distressing, emotional protest scenes, I couldn’t help but feel Papergang’s writers missed a chance to really drive home the message of this piece, by adding too much fluff and mess around these pivotal moments. Watching the characters frantically defend the front lines and getting arrested, was piercing and I was left wanting more of this theatre rather than the dreaming scenes and telecommunication that overshadowed the true point.

However, despite my disappointment with the narrative choices and weird linking passages, the ending of this play brought the audience to tears. Another monologue by the first character that opened the show, this closing scene was peppered with nostalgia for a country she once called home, longing for violence and the upheaval to stop for her unborn child – words that truly left an imprint on mine, and everyone else’s mind, I’m sure. Delivering her final lines, she illuminated her iPhone torch and raised her arm in the air. Looking around the room, the dark theatre slowly lit up as one by one, audience members followed suit in honor of those still suffering on the streets and in Hong Kong’s prisons. Turning to my right, I noticed the wet cheeks of my neighbor and despite the overall production not being of my taste, I grasped how important the telling of this story was.

Ultimately, I find this one hard to score. It boils down to meaning and impact versus production value and execution. Personally, I think this show wasted an opportunity. Without the poorly executed gimmicks and strange dreaming narrative that acted as the glue holding the play together, I think it could’ve been a real showstopper. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case and as a viewer, I wasn’t satisfied. The finale saved it from disaster and for that reason Dreamers deserves a three-star rating, in my opinion.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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