Left – Malcolm Allison. Cover – Phillip Prentice. Photos – Paul Jones
Visually, The Man Who Dreamt The Stars is one of the most spectacular shows I’ve ever seen. The lights and the technical effects in this show are absolutely, gobsmacking exquisite. Toby Knyvett, the lighting and video designer, deserves every accolade that can be heaped on him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show that was so visually stunning.
I just wish the rest of the show lived up to its dreamlike design. Sadly, I wasn’t really a fan of The Man Who Dreamt The Stars. It was gorgeous to look at, but I found it quite confusing. I also felt like it should be the kind of show I should feel, and I was quite sad that it left me emotionally cold.
The Man Who Dreamt The Stars describes itself as “absurd” with “surreal characters”, but the actual base plot is quite simple. It follows the life of Malcolm Allison (who plays himself), who was diagnosed as a child with a very rare form of brain tumour called an astrocytoma. With the support his mother (played here by Alicia Battestini), he undergoes two operations to have the tumour removed.
So far, so fine. But I’d say maybe 20% of stage time is devoted to following this plot. The rest is spent in a surreal universe with an astronaut and a tiger and a rock star and a whole host of other characters. This universe is created beautifully through the show’s special effects, but it’s really hard to relate it to the actual plot at all. I guess it was supposed to be Malcolm’s dream while he was being operated on? or something caused by the recurrence of his tumour? But it seemed to have very little relation to his actual situation at all. I mean, the whole notion of a small kid trapped in a hospital bed managing to dream a universe is quite powerful, but without any touchstones in that universe to his actual life... I was a bit lost, really.
Thinking about it, and reading the blurb in the program which talked about how this show (a co-production between Merrigong and The Disability Trust) has been in development in one form or another since 2008, I wonder whether The Man Who Dreamt The Stars might not be a bit over-developed. I feel like there was the kernel of something brilliant in here, but that the show lost touch with what that was. There was too much time spent with the universe, and not enough time devoted to explaining how that universe was relevant to the human story: the story of the sick boy in the bed. Images like the tiger made no sense – I didn’t understand at all where that came from. It’s extremely hard to speculate on this from the outside, but it feels like maybe so much time was spent thinking about the nuances and subtleties of the show that the basics got lost.
There was one image that will stick with me, though. At one moment, the “moon surface” backdrop was lit red. A dark silhouette in black loomed menacingly behind it – tiny, against the massive backdrop, but oh so very ominous. It was a brilliant artistic depiction of cancer. I feel like The Man Who Dreamt The Stars had so much potential to have more of these brilliant moments, but it got lost somewhere along the way.
Merrigong Theatre Company in association with The Disability Trust
The Man Who Dreamt the Stars
Director Anne-Louise Rentell
Venue: Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, Wollongong
Dates: February 14 – 22, 2014
Tickets: $49 – $44