Theatre review - Dream Story

DREAM STORY By Arthur Schnitzler

Adapted and Directed by Anna Ledwich

Gate Theatre, London, Running until 16 July 2011

Anna Ledwich’s stunning adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella opens and ends with a confession, suggesting that we are to be the judge and jury of this Freudian analysis of fidelity and betrayal, jealousy, and guilt.

Ledwich remains faithful to the book’s setting - Vienna, in the early 20th century. Albertine (Leah Muller) and Fridolin (Luke Neal), a successful doctor, appear to be happily married with a six-year-old daughter, but over the course of one long night their insecurities take hold and they are plunged into a hallucinatory state where reality and imagination collide.

It all starts when they try to articulate their sexual desires by confessing to their recent erotic fantasies while on holiday in Denmark. Fridolin had been struck by a beautiful fifteen-year-old girl he encountered on the beach, and Albertine had enjoyed a flirtation with a Danish military officer. But before they can reconcile themselves to their previously unspoken desires, Fridolin has to leave abruptly to tend to a dying man. Whilst Albertine slumbers and dreams of her husband’s violent death, Fridolin is plunged into a nightmarish odyssey through the streets of Vienna.

First, it is implied that Fridolin is having a passionate affair with his patient’s daughter. Fleeing this potential betrayal, he is then tempted by a prostitute but cannot act on his desires. Finally, he ends up, disguised in a mask and costume, at a private sex club, where a young woman later dies, apparently poisoned.

There are many states of existence, both real and imagined. Schnitzler, like Freud, was fascinated by our sexual obsessions, repressed desires, fantasies, and destructive impulses. In DREAM STORY, the lines are deliberately blurred as to whether this is a journey through Fridolin’s own psyche or whether the events actually take place. It doesn’t really matter because as the couple admit to one another at the end – “no dream is entirely a dream”.

The play is impeccably acted by a four-strong cast. Helen Goddard’s striking design has a movable double-bed centre stage, and Matt Haskins’ atmospheric lighting renders the cast iron partition into both a bedstead and the bars of a prison, underlining how our repressed desires can hold us hostage.

Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation, EYES WIDE SHUT, introduced Schnitzler to mainstream cinema audiences, so here’s hoping Ledwich’s vibrant production achieves similar success with London’s theatre goers.