Review: A Dream Play (Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts)

Teaser 1Toronto’s Randolph Academy presents August Strindberg’s A Dream Play

The Randolph Academy’s production of August Strindberg’s A Dream Play, currently playing at the Annex Theatre, is full of sound and fury. What does it signify? Well, very little to me personally. In preparation, I read Strindberg’s original text. I was not very fond of it and was hoping that a live experience might be more resonant. 

The story concerns Agnes, a child of the gods, who comes down among us mortals to experience life from humanity’s perspective. We’ve been complaining that it sucks to be us and she wants to know why. She encounters a sad bunch of characters that represent very specific ideas: law, science, philosophy, religion, love, and so on. She discovers that life does, indeed, suck.

The original text and Caryl Churchill’s adaptation is full of ideas, but it was hard for me to connect to them as written words or live performance. Generally, I am a fan of dreamlike narratives that forgo naturalism in favour of emotional and psychological truth, yet I have quite a few problems with this story and the way it’s told. These feel more like talking points than truths.

While I couldn’t really invest in the action, this staging is ambitious. Not having read Churchill’s version of the script, I’m not sure how much credit goes to the production team with regards to certain stylistic decisions. Director Michael Reinhart provides the audience with ample stimuli and is particularly fond of absurdist imagery. I understand that it is all meant to be whimsical and thought-provoking, but it is hard for me to connect to inside-out umbrellas and ballerinas dancing alongside frenzied political rantings. Some things just felt weird for the sake of weirdness.

The script demands a highly stylized treatment and receives it here. Everything seems designed to either encourage analysis or defy it. The way the actors move and speak, the props they hold: all of it appeals more to the intellect than raw emotion. That isn’t to say that characters don’t rant and wail; they certainly do, but I couldn’t really feel them under the weight of all that stagecraft.

And, to be honest, there were moments when both my guest and I felt that the performers were simply too young to properly communicate the gravity of the material.

I’m not a fan of the play and I’m still trying to wrap my head around Churchill’s use of Shakespearian text in this version. That said, I did try to appreciate this production and was exhausted by the effort. There were, however, a handful of moments that did resonate with me. I was quite touched by a final parting bit where all of the actors handed off personal items to the audience as they left the stage.

Oh, yes, there is a fair amount of physical contact with audience members in the first couple of rows, so bear that in mind when you take your seat. If you are not fond of interactive theatre, sit further back.

This is an evening out at the theatre that will appeal to very specific tastes.


  • A Dream Play is playing until March 19, 2016 at the Annex Theatre (730 Bathurst Street).
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, with a matinee on Saturday at 2pm.
  • Tickets are $22 and are available online at or by phone at 1-855-985-2787

Photo by Raph Nogal