Theater Reviews

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Almeida Theatre, London
Through Jan. 26


Known for provocative productions, London's Almeida Theatre has taken a typically adventurous approach to its first seasonal show for youngsters, "Marianne Dreams," based on the 1958 novel by English writer Catherine Storr.

A fable about a 10-year-old girl's reveries while she is in quarantine having treatment for a mysterious illness, it was made into a 1989 Working Title feature titled "Paperhouse," starring Charlotte Burke, Glenne Headly and Gemma Jones.

For the stage production, Moira Buffini adapted the story into words, dance and pictures using colorful video projections and inventive lighting.

With a worried mother (Sarah Malin) and a fussy doctor (Jack James) overseeing her care, young Marianne (Selina Chilton) is not happy having to stay in bed all day, every day. But then she finds a pencil and, encouraged by new tutor Miss Chesterfield (Siubhan Harrison), she begins to draw.

To Marianne's astonishment, the things she draws take on a life of their own, so that when she draws a house and forgets to put in stairs, next time she draws them so she can go upstairs. There, she finds a young boy seemingly trapped against his will.

He turns out to be named Mark (Mark Arends), and he has polio. Moving in and out of her dreams and her drawings, Marianne sets out to rescue the boy from his leg irons and find a cure for her own ailment, an adventure that ends up with them fleeing sinister strangers toward the sanctuary of a lighthouse.

Will Tuckett's witty direction and choreography take Marianne giddily into her fantasies, but so spry is the writing and so persuasive are the players -- especially Chilton as the little girl -- that they might not be dreams after all.

It's another juvenile success for the grown-up Chilton, who played another artistic prodigy recently in "Lotte's Journey" at London's New End Theatre. Harrison also is very good as the governess, while Lorna Heavey's video art and projection design borders on being magical.

MARIANNE DREAMS
Presented by Almeida Theatre
Credits:
Playwright: Catherine Storr
Adapted for the stage by: Moira Buffini
Director-choreographer: Will Tuckett
Set designer: Anthony Ward
Lighting designer: Neil Austin
Music: Paul Englishby
Sound designer: Paul Groothius
Video art/projection designer: Lorna Heavey
Cast:
Marianne: Selina Chilton
Helen: Sarah Malin
Dr. Burton: Jack James
Miss Chesterfield: Siubhan Harrison
Mark: Mark Arends
Marianne (in some performances): Sarah Boulton
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