EFR - Reviews of A Dream of Dying

A Dream of Dying

Fri 5th – Sat 27th August 2016

reviews

Naoise Murphy

at 09:01 on 21st Aug 2016

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A dead man is washed up on a beach in the west of Ireland. He is never identified. This is the starting point for Treasa Nealon’s ‘A Dream of Dying.’ Her project is simple and touching. She imagines the life of this anonymous person, what could have lead up to his death, and gives him back a voice - even if it’s a fictional one.

Its themes are universal. Loneliness, anxiety about death, the ‘life plan’ gone wrong. How far can one control life? And if not life, then how far can one control death? There are a few starkly poignant questions here. At one point, the central character asks "Do you know how you want to die?’", setting the tone for a performance that will be dark but not utterly hopeless.

The script is intriguing, but not revolutionary. The success of the piece depends largely on Lawrence Boothman, the actor at the centre of this one-man show. He gives a fantastic solo performance, and is endearing, awkward and likeable from his very first lines. Boothman tackles the confessional style of the piece with a sort of slightly twitchy nervousness, as if embarrassed to be opening his heart to a room full of strangers. Paradoxically, this takes away any potential awkwardness, creating an intimate and realistic performance. Boothman draws out the funny moments of the script with relish, never allowing the piece to slip into melodrama or excessive pathos. His physicality is compelling, contrasting aptly with the image of a still, lifeless body on a beach. Constantly moving with an almost frantic energy, he portrays every character as distinct and memorable.

The set is simple but effective – sand, rope, buckets. Throughout the show, Boothman lays out a row of his possessions across the front of the stage, removing his shoes, socks, jacket and items from his pockets which symbolise the important people in his life. It’s a move that could easily have seemed clichéd, but is carried out with such casual simplicity that it appears completely right and natural.

There is a strange ambiguity at the heart of the work. We learn a great deal about this man’s life, but the picture built up is not one that unequivocally leads to suicide in a foreign country. We never actually get a clear idea of "when and how and where it all went so wrong." There’s something unsatisfying about this, certainly, but then again, one wonders why we suddenly feel entitled to every gory detail. It is enough to give us a sympathetic portrayal of a man at the extremity of life, in every sense. An affecting, if not ground-breaking, piece of work.

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Darcy Rollins

at 10:02 on 21st Aug 2016

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This is a play that is far from easy to watch. But it is not meant to be. This is an unsettling play - just as it should be.

‘A Dream of Dying’ by Treasa Nealon is based on a stranger than fiction true story, about a man who meticulously planned his own death in 2009. This individual planned his death in a way that erased all traces of his identity. Tragically, the man’s intention to become anonymous seemed to have succeeded, as no one came forward to claim the body.

Knowing that such a sad premise is based in reality instantly makes for an unsettling experience. The figure of Peter Branghamm is given nervous, energetic existence by the powerful talents of Lawrence Boothman. Nealon's imagined backstory of the man goes spans from young adulthood, to his final hours. Crucial details about “what went wrong” are omitted. Instead, we are given insights into the psychology of this man.

In a stream of consciousness monologue, Boothman presents the character’s ambitions with a desperate determination. We are left to infer that a lack of achievement is the reason for his death. Although poignant, I find the omission of any solid answers incredibly frustrating. As I watch this figure so full of life, I find myself longing to know why he chose to end it.

This is the overpowering realism of ‘A Dream of Dying’. In this play, as in the tragic mystery that inspired it, answers are not available. In fact, the monologue is defined by absences. Everything that is warm and witty in the murky ramblings of Peter stings in the knowledge of his end. An endearing tale of a distant crush amuses, but cuts in equal measure - I fear this tale symbolises a life not fully lived.

The tone relentlessly moves from such seemingly trivial tales, to hard-hitting home truths. Perhaps these changes occur too relentlessly, as the audience is barely given a chance to relax. I find myself longing for moments of quiet, sadness and peace for the figure, but none appear. I am instead left feeling uncomfortable and evading the eye-contact of the talented Boothman.

However, this is all too apt. In reality, tragedies such as this are not from the realm of the comfortable. Answers are not always there, and a joyful figure can mysteriously and suddenly lose their energy. With such a complex and confusing portrayal, the play gives the painful topic of suicide the full treatment it is due. Equally, it pays fitting homage to a man without a name.

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