I wasn’t in Melbourne when the Keene/Taylor project was the darling of this city’s independent theatre scene (1997–2002), so it’s a joy to see Mary Lou Jelbart’s fortyfivedownstairs brings writer Daniel Keene and director Ariette Taylor back together with Dreamers.
Dreamers. Photo by Jeff Busby. Jonathan Taylor, Natasha Herbert, Nicholas Bell, Paul English, Marco Chiappi and Brigid Gallacher
Originally written by Keene for French company Tabula Rasa (Keene is loved in France), Dreamers is about loneliness and the hope that can be found even when the isolation seems impenetrable.
Set in a low-income block of flats in any city, widow Anne (Helen Morse) lives alone and earns her living from sewing consignment garments. She’s rarely interrupted, except when she catches the bus to babysit her grandson. At the bus stop she meets fellow residents including building foreman (Marco Chiappi), a former bus driver now ticket inspector (Paul English) and younger new-comer to the city Majid (Yomal Rajasinghe) who’s looking for work.
Majid knows that people ignore him and move away because he’s black, but Anne doesn’t and when he’s turned away at their local cafe by the waiter (Jonathan Taylor), she buys him a coffee. When their friendship develops, locals (Natasha Herbert and Nicholas Bell) are disgusted and her daughter (Brigid Gallacher) doesn’t understand.
While it’s a clear reflection on the many ways people hate each other for no reason, Taylor’s direction – and an impeccable cast – never forgets that everyone is a likeable and loved person in their own way. With songs around a pianola and dances around garbage bins, the gentle humour makes it easy to see how hate can surface in the most everyday of places and in the most unsuspecting people.
The design uses the long an difficult fortyfivedownstairs space beautifully. Adrienne Chisholm’s design incorporates the supporting poles and lets us see into tiny rooms and the whole block at once, with Andy Turner’s lighting defining space.
While there are many angry plays about all the isms and how they are wrong, Dreamers is a gentle work about people; people who can always change how they see the world.