As Betty (Jennie Eggleton) and her fellow students face up to unfortunate truths from the past, Dream School is unafraid to tackle deeply diversive situations, as well as how we view victims and perpetrators, heroes and villains.
Audience members at the venue were offered a safe space to reflect if affected or overwhelmed by the topics and content in Francis Grin’s play; online audiences were sent content and safe-guarding notes.
Focusing on mental health, (un)reliable narratives, and the difficult conversations many have within families or places of authority, this play is an energetic exploration of the issues we often hide within us.
With a cast of six, a chatty group to start with enjoying their music and friendships, Dream School slowly utilises The Space’s nooks to draw us into the cult the students accidentally find themselves in.
It’s a play about stories, lies, and physicality. Charlotte Everest’s direction explores tension, time and the words we use to tell our tales. Ben Garcia’s lighting design is both clinical and atmospheric,
In the performances, Justin Butcher is very good as Bobby, a student’s father who moves into halls bringing his charisma and clarity into the space. Eggleton’s Betty displays a nervous energy and a determined gaze.
The others – Iona Champain as confident Celeste; Felix Kai as Tom (“the hawk, who watches over people”); Jahmila Heath as caring Naomi; and Charlie Cassen as unnerving Alex – are strong physical performers who give their roles a large dose of realism.
Dream School is an unnerving piece to watch, especially at 105 minutes straight through. It is about power, persuasion, and passivity; coercion, conversation, and confidence.
As cults have often been in the news recently from a motivation and mentoring point of view, the one that slowly evolves here feels very believable without being overpowering.
There’s a danger which shows itself all through this piece: from Celeste’s improvisation about her dad to Betty’s halting recollections of her past story. It never oversteps into silliness, though, although it deftly ventures into paranoid territory.