RFT Theatre Company is back this Fringe season with Those Worrisome Sleeps, a post-apocalyptic fantasy play, written by Ben Blow and directed by Robin Osman. Speculative fiction is hard to come by on the stage these days, but it wasn’t until the production had begun and the crystal balls had been lit that I realised I’d never actually seen a stage play in the fantasy genre before. Because despite the postapocalyptic storyline, Sleeps is unabashedly fantasy; even apart from the presence of wizards, rain chants and people made of light, it plays with a number of classic fantasy themes as well: social ostracism, dream interpretation, and a lost love that transcends time.
Sleeps starts in media res, encouraging the audience to immerse themselves in the world by gradually revealing how that world came to be. With minimal set and direction, Sleeps relies heavily on its four-piece cast to deliver the plot and maintain the emotional tone. For the most part this is done admirably but because of this minimalism, paired with the high fantasy setting, the plot of the piece is occasionally confusing; it was sometimes difficult to discern what was flashback or memory, and what took place in the present of the play. Once or twice, too, the dialogue came off as a bit stilted, always a danger in any kind of fantasy writing.
But even so, I found myself drawn into the story and gripped by its emotion, carried off most of all by Danielle Farrow’s portrayal of the protagonist, Jay. Jay is a uniquely flawed character with echoes of the classic “wizard” archetype – a volatile, powerful, larger than life character who is humanised by Farrow’s expansively emotional delivery. She plays well off the other cast members, especially Blanca Takami Silijedahl’s Dee, who provided a comedic counterpoint which, far from striking a discordant note, kept the tone a bit lighter-hearted and made sure the piece didn’t take itself too seriously.
Overall Sleeps is a serious play, though textured with notes of oddball humour seamlessly woven in. It’s as niche as any of RFT’s pieces but therein lies its charm: it embraces its genre and doesn’t try too hard to explain itself, and because of this might require more work than a cynical audience member is willing to put in. Indeed, Sleeps encourages the viewer to set aside cynicism and suspend disbelief, which I for one was happy to do.
Those Worrisome Sleeps, Venue 18, Until 26th August, 6:35pm