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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
MARIANNE DREAMS
at the Almeida

TONE POEMS
By Matt Wolf

  Selina Chilton and Mark Arends/PH: Tristram Kenton

Hmmm: One has to wonder about a seasonal entertainment with an eye on the kids' market that this all too adult member of the audience had difficulty sticking out. So, by the looks of it, did the two grown-ups either side of me, not to mention the ten-year-old seated just in front who after a while rested a presumably weary head on his mother's sympathetic shoulder. Those are just a few early reports from the intermissionless frontline of Will Tuckett's Almeida Theatre adaptation of the Catherine Storr book, Marianne Dreams, scripted by Moira Buffini. I have nothing against material aimed to whatever degree toward children embracing the darker side of life - kids, after all, were the most enthralled of all through the infanticide sequences in the National Theatre's Coram Boy - but this production needs infinitely greater imaginative lift-off if it is to seem anything other than colorless and grey.

Its failure to ignite is especially bizarre given material that is about precisely that: namely, a ten-year-old girl, Marianne, who is confined to her bed with mononucleosis, from which point she uses drawing to construct a fantastical parallel universe free of disease and sickbed duvets. Art is her refuge and, given Tuckett's own dancing career, movement, too, which Marianne shares with the boy of her aesthetic imaginings, Mark Arends' Mark. That Mark in his real life has polio and hasn't clocked Marianne doesn't keep the girl's mind from taking wing, whether via drawings that descend from the flies - the foodstuffs of Anthony Ward's witty designs include particularly vivid leek and onion sausages -or sudden bursts of dance that include a lovely shared burst of abandon for the pair that takes Marianne close to her dreamed-of realm of flight.

As long as she lets the drawings be her guide, Marianne is released from her bed and Mark has access to a bicycle. Otherwise, life consists of math lessons (just squiggles on a page, Marianne objects),hours spent alternately with either her mother (Helen Malin) or a tutor (Siubhan Harrison), and what evolves into a fairly tortured narrative of healing: Do you feel stuck here, duckling? asks the mother, to which one can only answer, Yes.

Those with a greater tolerance for whimsy may warm to an inevitably precious conceit that, to Tuckett's credit, doesn't turn all cloying with its adult cast having to act overly cute kids. Selina Chilton's Marianne may remark chirpily that she is drawn to umbrellas because I can draw them really well, but the performance has rather more tone and variety than the tale itself. Arends, in turn, is appealing enough that one feels for Marianne when the actual Mark greets her near play's end with a notable lack of enthusiasm. But in a year that also included his wildly fussy Royal Opera House take on Into the Woods, Tuckett displays more of a gift for arresting stage pictures than for animating the connective tissue between them. A show about the transformative power of art, Marianne Dreams of all pieces by rights ought not to feel so stillborn. The entire performance lasts only 75 minutes, but as we all know, real tedium in the playhouse just can't be quantified.

 

 

 

 


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SCHEDULE UPDATES -
Yes, Prime Minister contracts its run, while A Chorus Line expands its own.
POWERHOUSE OF THEATRE - After 11 years as the Almeida Theatre's artistic director, Michael Attenborough is stepping down to focus on directing. 

SONGS FROM THE HEART - Once the Tony-Award winning musical is set to hit London in January.


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