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I Dreamed a Dream - The Susan Boyle Musical (Bristol)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Well! What a surprising evening! When I was asked to review this show I had very mixed feelings about what to expect. I worried that the show would be either glitzy or maudlin. Well I was wrong on both counts.

The show tells the story – in song for a good part of the time – of Susan Boyle and her meteoric rise to fame following her unexpected success on “Britain’s Got Talent”. The story is told with humour and a great sensitivity.

The part of Susan is played by Elaine C Smith – who is also the co-author of the show. Narrated by “Susan” as a fairy story, showing her life, with the glamour and theatricality, but also telling of the darker side of her life, and especially the pressures she was put under when she was catapulted overnight to fame in April 2009.

Elaine C Smith is outstanding in this role, and by the end of the show we really believe that she is Susan Boyle – so much so that it actually comes almost as a shock when the real Susan Boyle appears to sing a couple of songs to us, much to the great delight of the audience. Elaine is on stage for the entire performance, using simple costume changes to denote time and place changes, and her portrayal of never slips or fails – a marathon effort.

The set, by Morgan Large, who also designed the costumes, is extremely effective, consisting mainly of a massive bank of monitors filling the whole of the back of the stage with changing images throughout. Eye catching, but never distracting attention away from the action. This, with a few boxes and a staircase are the main stage furniture, apart from a model house which remains in place throughout and represents the Boyle family house, the central point of her life.

The supporting actors are sympathetically cast and play their part without ever overshadowing the “star” of the show. Special mention must be made of Karen Mann and James Patterson who play Susan’s parents, and to Ashleigh Gray and Andy Stephens, who play friend Lorraine and her boyfriend John respectively.

The insight that is shown into the complete change of life that occurred when Susan suddenly became famous, the pressures which were put on her by the media and her eventual breakdown as a result holds the audience enthralled. However, as this is a “fairy” story, we are also shown her fight back and final triumph over her illness, nervousness and stage fright, with the help of her sympathetic manager.

Beautifully directed by Ed Curtis, he keeps the pace and humour flowing, even through the dark scenes, and we are not allowed to “wallow” in Susan’s unhappiness and low times.

All in all I Dreamed a Dream is a really enjoyable, thought provoking and sensitive production, and it provides a great insight into the other, darker side of fame. Go and see it – I think you might be as surprised as I was.


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