The lights come up revealing a man half covered in cardboard. Our protagonist, Alfie (Chris Rex Martin), starts to regale us with facts about armadillos. This explains what he is wearing. This sets the tone for the next hour – referencing Shakespeare and Milton, Such Stuff as Dreams is a lyrical, moving, often surreal, informative and entertaining show about schizophrenia, astronomy, dating, and Trappist beer.
It’s quite a heady mix for first timers Camilla Walker (writer / actor) and Adam Rohe (director), who take full advantage of the opportunity provided by Te Pou’s Rangitahi season showcasing emerging artists. It takes confidence to pull off such a variety of subjects, while retaining a cohesive narrative and developing relatable characters.
Alfie, an awkward busker, attempts to woo hesitant waitress Claire (Camilla Walker). There’s a third person in the mix though, the impishly antagonistic Morph (Daniel Goodwin). It gradually becomes clear that he is not a fellow suitor for Claire, but a physical manifestation of Alfie’s mental state, veering from exhilaration to depression. In spite of Alfie’s clumsy – if endearing – approaches, he is successful with Claire, only for this to trigger a full on anxiety attack, with Morph expressing the blackest thoughts possible, while Claire works through confusion to consoling.
With dramatic tension established, the play returns to how their day started, with Alfie persistently busking outside Claire’s cafe, until he is told to leave. This triggers an opportunistic and surprisingly successful request for a date. The bulk of the show follows a relatably awkward first date, with hesitations, miscommunications, and laugh out loud moments, while Morph provides a running narrative of Alfie’s thoughts and fears. Scenes are interspersed with further interludes of a cardboard armadillo clad Alfie, who offers more fun – and surprisingly poignant – facts.
The cast bring commitment and energy to their roles, ably supported by beautifully atmospheric music from Shadrack Simi, playing away on keys at the back of the stage. Ben Sarten and Ariana Shipman bring the blank canvas of the Te Pou stage to life with their set and lighting design respectively, while Ben Sarten and Chay Nicol provide support backstage.
I’ve rarely seen debuts as accomplished as Such Stuff As Dreams. It would have been missed by many, and hopefully will return to the stage soon to captivate new audiences.
Such Stuff As Dreams played at Te Pou 25-28 April as part of the Rangatahi Season.