The play weaves music and movement into the story, creating a beautiful, thought-provoking pieceJohannes Hjorth

Playing at Newnham Old Labs until Saturday, Dreaming of Leaves is Tara Kearney’s vision of life on a post-apocalyptic Earth, as four criminals and outcasts try to sustain themselves, physically and emotionally, whilst the floodwaters eddy around the leaking church which they have made their dwelling; about the only fault one could have found in the opening night was that the audience was – unjustly – only marginally less sparse than the cast.

Describing itself as "a dystopian imagining which combines music, movement, and lyricism", the play is a delight both to the mind and the senses. This becomes apparent as soon as one emerges from the rather Cimmerian Newnham gardens (passing a rowboat which, as it later transpires, represents a foraging expedition): the tableau with which one is presented is a stunning array of dead leaves, empty bottles, and disused altar decorations, with music provided by Margherita Colaceci at the piano. I gather there were some lighting issues, but the consequent minimalism gave a sense of airy lightness that was not inappropriate, and the ambiance was a distinctly attractive feature of the play.

All four of the actors were given parts which allowed them to shine, and initial fears that some performances were going to be pantomimic were soon dissipated by the multi-dimensional competence that followed. Of particular note was Tilda Mallinson’s June: to play a childlike character who, resisting growing up, and angry at the barrenness of the world in which she lives, ultimately makes a dramatic attempt at aborting an unborn baby, cannot be an easy task for any actor, and it was carried off with remarkable success. Also noteworthy was the choreography, including an impressively balletic dance between June and Jake Morris’ Otto.

Most impressive of all is the script, which sustains an extraordinary imagination and an appealing sense for the poetry of language, with plenty of touches of good humour throughout. The title might suggest an insubstantial air of pastel colours and poignancy, but there is a great deal more than mere surface charm to this play. The final scene was harrowing, and the structure of the plot was such that the scenes that seemed at first purely atmospheric turned out to have laid its foundations: a touching narrative of a foaling, for example, or the death of a baby chick, paved the way for June’s despair at the value of bringing a new life into a world that is its necessary grave.

A well-constructed, well-acted, and thought-provoking piece of undergraduate writing, Dreaming of Leaves is not a play to be overlooked.

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