Ordinary Dreams (Or, How to Survive a Meltdown with Flair)

Trafalgar Studios, 12 May – 6 June 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

There’s a crisis pupating on the streets of Great Britain. The name of that crisis is Middle Class Extremism, also known as Bourgeois Fundamentalism.

Marcus Markou pins down the causes and symptoms of this terrible social malaise in his new play Ordinary Dreams (Or, How to Survive a Meltdown with Flair). Staged in a West End theatre, traditional haunt of the middle classes, the play is perfectly situated to speak to those most at risk.

Markou’s case study is Miles (James Lance). Until the birth of his first child, Miles is just your average worrier. But terrified for his newborn, whom he feels powerless to protect from bailout debt, broken glass and blue language, Miles snaps and starts chasing local youths down the road with a candlestick.

Markou may not actually have intended his play as an examination of an ordinary, middle-ground thinker’s conversion to rabid right-wingery, but that’s how Miles’s arc seems to function, and he’s the main character. His wife Penny (Imogen Slaughter), uni mate Dan (Adrian Bower) and Dan’s girlfriend Layla (Sia Berkeley) all have plotlines of their own, but Miles is the only character whose dreams we see enacted on stage.

In Miles’s fantasies, he’s running for Prime Minister on an ‘ordinary man’ ticket, with exciting music and a PA who says things like “you can have me any time you want”. All four actors’ performances are actually more convincing for being played large, and the unreality of the situation excuses Markou’s less speakable lines (of which there are few, but which jar noticeably when they occur in ‘reality’).

Outside Miles’s head, the story is uninspiringly standard soap-opera stuff. Dan and Penny have history that looks set to recur, and Layla exists mainly to unintentionally needle Penny (though credit to Berkeley, who manages to make engaging a character who could easily become chirpily grating).

Miles snaps because reality can’t live up even to his modest ideals; similarly, for the audience, reality can’t compare to fantasy. If he’s not careful, Markou might find his play spawns auditoria full of Middle Class Extremists.

Written by Marcus Markou

Crew includes Adam Barnard (director), Vicki Fifield (designer), Mike Robertson (lighting designer) and Steve Mayo (sound designer)

Cast includes Sia Berkeley (Layla), Adrian Bower (Dan), James Lance (Miles) and Imogen Slaughter (Penny)

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