Nocturnal Fantasy, Drayton Arms Theatre

Blog | The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

by Diana Miranda

Devised by Bodies For Rent theatre company, Nocturnal Fantasy takes place at a one-bedroom flat where four people gather (Pedro E. Ferreira, Naima Sjoholm, Aman, Timotheus Widmer), each for different reasons. A party kicks off and, as their moods are pumped up by drinking, they create imaginary spaces that start as playful sketches and eventually take on a surrealistic twist where memories and delusion merge.

The party is hosted by Max, who lures the audience into a contemplative mood with soft music and a lost gaze that peruses the contents of a memory box. Reality kicks in with a door knock. Amy enters with her own blanket; later an irritated Lucca arrives and gifts a confused Max with a tiny rocking chair. Finally, Mika delivers a couple of rum bottles and is convinced to join in. The audience repeatedly learns that Max is a young lawyer, but his profession doesn’t seem to affect the show’s theme of the borderline between imagination and materiality in daily life, any more than other behind-a-desk professions.

Soon enough, it’s evident that there are unspoken concerns, and perhaps a need for a distraction. The story is traversed by such worries and becomes increasingly cathartic. Directors Moses Zhao and Jiazheng Li’s staging successfully mirror this evolution, easing the audiences into the characters’ shifting states of mind. It starts with small items in a shoebox and ends with a tent made of furniture and sheets that takes over the stage. Little by little, the growing complexity of the set achieves fantastical depictions of man-sized caterpillars, wild animals and vast mountains.

The dreamscapes are meant to be attached to the psyche of each character, but the metaphors and their progression are sometimes hard to follow. It takes a while to warm up to the story’s core, too. A sense of monotony makes the show unravel and feel too self-consciously subtle. The voices and gestures don’t come across decisively, and the overall pace could be just a beat quicker. However, a few exceptions are hard to forget, such as the hilarious war sketch, a drunken Mika dozing off and dressed up like a prophet, and Lucca’s explosive catharsis, who is also the strongest presence among the cast.

While the show evokes regular laughs the jokes don’t land firmly among the audience, partly because the lines feel a bit out of place, and partly because the timing doesn’t do the trick. Though the cast displays a mutual understanding as they work together, their chemistry needs to infuse the dialogue with that same rhythm. They could afford to work on that balance, avoiding the occasional lines overlapping, too.

The show creates the expectation of a dreamlike world, but the mesmerising spell is not quite there yet. The design (Joel Li) suggests imaginary worlds through theatrical devices such as music or slight changes in lighting. But there is still much potential to utilise light and audio design to curate a space that shifts from real to evocative. There is still room to take this show into the realm of lucid dreams.

Nocturnal Fantasy runs through 29 January.

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