THE HOURS BEFORE WE WAKE at the Wardrobe, Bristol


Tremolo Theatre’s The Hours Before We Wake is a little gem of a show, multi-faceted and polished to perfection. It begins in balletic slow-motion, with a young man swimming in dangerous waters. After evading snarling monsters he triumphantly dons a superhero cape and… wakes up. It is 2091 and almost all is well in Ian’s world. He has a job with a huge biotech corporation that manufactures pills that enable the user to have lucid dreams that are then uploaded onto social media. It seems that everyone is on this pill; ‘Did you see my dream last night?’ is typical workplace chit-chat, for ‘Dream Share’ has superseded Facebook.

Ian’s home life is monitored and controlled by ‘Louise’, a briskly bossy computer that ensures he takes his pill every evening before escaping into the dream world in which he regularly rescues Janice from danger. In the real world Janice is Ian’s attractive but coldly aloof supervisor who has no interest in his nocturnal heroics, for she loves Paul, another employee of the corporation. Ian’s rivalry with Paul is expressed largely through the medium of cake-baking; Ian is particularly proud of the moistness of his carrot cake and he dismisses Paul’s cheesecake as being simply too cheesy – an endearingly human touch of lo-tech male competitiveness in a hi-tech world.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick Milton is both the disembodied voice of Louise and the more tangible but unattainable Janice. Both Louise and Janice have a cold efficiency that Ian sadly lacks. James D Kent portrays Ian as frustrated, gauche, naïve and entirely accepting of a world in which everyone’s inner mental life is public property. He is shaken out of his hapless passivity when he encounters Bea, a woman who, extraordinarily, does not take the pill. She is on a perilous quest and she needs his help; together they will uncover the frightening reality that lies behind this hi-tech dream-world. Maisie Newman is excellent as the rebellious Bea, full of missionary zeal and all too aware of the dangers inherent in an unquestioning acceptance of technological ‘progress’.

All the acting in The Hours before We Wake is impressive, but for me the undoubted star of the show is Rowan Evans’s richly complex, subtle sound design which takes us into a bleeping, whooshing future where any clear distinction between that which is human and that which is technological no longer exists. This blurring of the organic and the synthetic is seen in the way the characters frequently communicate through touchpads embedded in their forearms. This is a future where video-cameras and CDs are quaint antiques and the possession of a folder documents on paper is riskily subversive.

The subject matter of this play is bleak, suggesting that our ever-increasing electronic connectivity is leading us to become ever more disconnected from ourselves, from each other and from reality. But The Hours Before We Wake is both very funny and joyous to watch, sugaring the bitter pill of its dystopian theme with laugh-out-loud comedy and intricately choreographed performances. Directed by Jack Drewry, written by Anna Houghton and devised by the company together with dramaturg Elana Binysh, this is clearly the product of a truly collaborative effort, its wit, naturalness and apparent spontaneity the result of a great deal of creative talent and sheer hard graft. Last night’s performance was a deserved sell-out; it’s a pity that The Hours Before We Wake is at The Wardrobe for just one more night.   ★★★★★    Mike Whitton      6th February 2016