Land Without Dreams began life in Denmark which perhaps goes someway to explaining its uncynical call to optimism. Whilst the Scandi-noir boom has given us an image of a forbidding ice encrusted land filled with complicated women in horrible sweaters picking through errant body parts, Denmark is actually the second happiest country on earth per capita. For the UK, languishing at number 15 with the specters of climate apocalypse and Brexit pulling double duty on our twitchy citizens, optimism does not come quite so easy. As a result Land Without Dreams should be commended for managing to prove uplifting in a way that doesn’t provoke bitter non-Scandinavian eye-rolls; whilst also providing an unusual undercurrent of oblique menace.
Land Without Dreams is a one woman show that straddles that slippery fault line zig zagging between agit-prop and performance art. Said one woman, a warm and captivating Temi Wilkey, is apparently from the future. She says so herself, albeit at the alienating remove of the third person: “the woman walked on stage, she hoped the audience would trust her”. The only relief from the third person are brief detours in the second person (it’s that kind of play) as she speculates what ‘you’ are feeling as audience members. This is where a lot of the humour comes in as fictional audience members seethe with anger at the message that we can change the world, or breathlessly flirt with each other. Despite the airiness of the concept Wilkey’s cheerfully sardonic tone keeps things grounded, particularly as the stranger flights of fantasy begin to beat their wings.
Wilkey has come back to the past to inspire us to try and save the world, to not give into pessimism. A worthy message that would normally come across as more than a little pat. However as the play progresses, Wilkey’s message of hope gets a little odd around the edges; the brave new world she describes sounds a little more aqueous than you’d expect. Her narrative is occasionally interrupted as she frenziedly scratches off swatches of dead skin. As the play comes to its conclusion there is an unexpected tour de theatre that sees mankind’s primordial past fuse messily with our uncertain future in an explosion of mud and slime. Said ending was stark, powerful and just flat out bizarre and can’t help but stick with you no matter how much you scratch. An unusual yet zippy hybrid beast, Land Without Dreams is a surprising winner, optimism’s not just for suckers and cephalopods.
Land Without Dreams is playing at the Gate Theatre until December 7th, click here for tickets
Picture Copyright Cameron Slater