Dreaming at the Queen's Theatre

After years of bloody civil war Mallory (Gerard Murphy) dreams of returning home to share the peace with his wife and child, but they are gone, victims of another battle. In his mad despair, he imagines in Susan (Kate Isitt) the reincarnation of his dead wife and, striving to save her from the evil Gloucester, begins a strange and at times darkly humorous journey through middle England.

What follows is an odd and sometimes incoherent peregrination, a road movie of a plot which begins as a violent Reformation drama and veers periodically into pastiche of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Alan Miller Bunford's minimalist design sets a suitably macabre tone with a gleaming mirrored disc which doubles the cast in the battle scenes and populates the set with dismembered limbs and decomposing bodies.

Even without the mirrors, some cast members have so many roles it is difficult to keep track, but they fight, dance, sing and mime with great gusto, managing to keep a straight face throughout even the more ridiculous scenes.

Murphy is a convincing Mallory, strongly supported and at times outshone by his band of murdering cut-throats. James Clyde's suicidal Skeleton is finely drawn and fiercely witty and Dilys Laye shines as Bess. But it is the vicious Gloucester (Christopher Eddridge), oozing evil like a pantomime baddie who really dominates the stage.

Violent, witty, intriguing, exasperating, Dreaming, written and directed by Peter Barnes is probably the most original play on Shaftesbury Avenue right now but the sheer number of characters detracts from the theme and certain scenes lack pace. 'My feet are killing me, but not fast enough' whined Skeleton at one point just before the interval. At times, I felt the same about the play.

Ruth Allen

Dreaming received its world premiere at the Manchester Royal Exchange in March 1999. It transferred to the Queen s on 15 June (previews from 10 June) and continues until 17 July 1999.