Review: Beautiful Dreamers

Ten stories high and innumerable stories wide, a co-prodution between Anu and Performance Corporation allows us to view the expanse of Limerick city

 

Beautiful Dreamers

Various venues, Limerick

****

In both its architecture and its narrative, a city is built up of stories. Some are stacked high, others spread wide, still more buried deep. In fiction, the job of revealing the kinetic energy of a city and the teeming secrets of strangers has fallen to flaneurs, detectives or voyeurs – consummate observers all. This co-production between Anu and Performance Corporation suggests a more gentle approach: “a conversation with a city,” according to its subtitle, yet its writer Tom Swift and director Louise Lowe are conducting something closer to a survey in two distinct and cleverly compatible ways.

The show’s development began a year ago, with interviews conducted with passing citizens on Limerick’s streets. It now concludes, some 10 storeys up, in a secret location offering a panoramic view of the city. Here, disembodied voices embedded in Carl Kennedy’s excellent sound design encourage us to snoop; to peer across rooftops, into hotel windows, over bridges.

Through a spectacular feat of stage management, we sometimes find figures, sometimes not. A bank of televisions relaying CCTV footage from outside attests to a familiar kind of urban narrative: surveillance and the city.

It’s an artful way to address Limerick, at the conclusion of its year as City of Culture, as both a glittering spectacle and a place routinely under suspicion. Beautiful Dreamers nudges at what makes a community cohesive without shying away from where it falls apart. For a start, one of our earliest encounters is with Peds, a hyperkinetic, lanky young man who is, as they say, “known to the gardaí”. He’s also a lot of fun, a quick and playful improviser, and Shane Whisker’s expertly measured performance introduces the just right amount of warmth and edge.

In a balanced collaboration, the fingerprints on the piece are more often Swift’s than Lowe’s: the text enjoys subverting language, particularly the aridity of commercial jargon, to poetic ends. “Your view is important” is a typical refrain, a tickling double meaning. Another mantra (“cue: Christmas lights”; or “cue: a girl makes a racist remark she’ll regret much later”) brings a Truman Show frame to Limerick, as though all city life was a coached performance. (Perhaps it is.)

It makes the later arrival of characters finally speaking for themselves seem more counterfeit, but their stories, you suspect, are drawn from real testimony. They spill with real details of addiction and recovery, of property crashes and community pride, of suicide patrols and professional caring, honouring a city’s complexity and contradictions. (Erica Murray, as a young guard from Moyross, best encapsulates that tugged sense of identity.)

It’s Peds, though, beaten down yet undiminished, who seems to embody the spirit of his home. “Somehow, in my head, a city happens,” he says, from within the swirl of possible narratives. That’s the distillation of this ambitious and perceptive project: to understand a city, you have to be able to imagine it. Until Dec 7