The woman stands on a stage, floor and walls and ceiling painted black, wearing a dress the colour of ripened sunflowers. All the lights are on so she can look directly into the eyes of every member of the audience, addressing and speculating about the backgrounds of this couple, this man, this woman –
This woman begins to think about how she might structure this review. She thinks about a conversation earlier that day with a friend about struggling with writing. They’re writing a book together, a book about theatre, but also about politics, but also about hope. The woman on stage –
“has to tell them something they’ll have a hard time believing”. She is here from the future. She is here to tell every member of the audience, looking directly into their eyes, that “it’s going to be okay”. And one of the women –
This woman thinks about Deborah Pearson’s The Future Show, a performance almost as sparse materially as Land Without Dreams, philosophically just as expansive. Pearson begins it at the moment the performance ends, and winds from there through the end of the evening, to the next day, the next week, the next few years, until her death, her final breath, which coincides with the final breath of the performance. This woman in the audience, writing now, thinks about the ways in which she has struggled, over this decade, to think into the future, or rather, struggled to see past the flame red stamp reading environmental catastrophe, and yet has found herself living through so many small futures planned for or by her, holidays, for instance, or nights at the theatre. I am constantly, she thinks, imagining small futures, even when dreaming seems impossible, seems impossible because –
species going extinct
– and this woman copying the words from the play text thinks of bees and thinks of rainforests on fire and thinks of how cold it is for people sleeping rough in London now and thinks of the video she watched on twitter just before starting to write, detailing the lies the Tory party have told about the NHS, and thinks back to sitting in the audience, watching Land Without Dreams, but also watching All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Andy Smith, another show materially sparse but philosophically and politically expansive, that asks its audience directly: “What are we doing? How might we change the world?” Three years ago this woman in the audience, writing now, sat in her kitchen and read this text out to a group of friends, because she wanted to use someone else’s voice to say: “I want us to change the world. I want us to stop making all this capitalism. To stop making societies that operate on the principle of winner takes all.” Because she wanted to use someone else’s voice to “imagine some of the things that communism imagined. Like, say, a fairer, more collective society.”
It should be noted that, wherever her mind travels, this woman in the audience is still giving close attention to what the woman on stage in the sunflower dress is saying. It should be noted that the woman writing now has chosen the clumsy construction “giving attention” over “paying attention” as part of a long and slow and arduous and futile campaign to dismantle the effects of capitalism on language, or at least her usage of it.
She gives attention as the woman on stage says: “You must take concrete political steps today, even though it’s far from the path you thought you’d take.”
She gives attention as the woman on stage says: “You need to imagine a country without central governance. A country where there is no democracy, but rituals, dialogues, and temples.”
She gives attention as the woman on stage says: “Of all the animal species on Earth, it is humans that go extinct. And that is good. No one misses humanity.”
And she smiles, this woman in the audience, and gratefully agrees, and thinks back to yesterday, the two hours spent canvassing for the Labour party, not because she’s a party member, and not because she’s good at it (she really isn’t), but because she has at last been frightened into new action. She thinks about writing this review quickly, to free up time to make a zine for young people who might feel confused about voting (exactly as she did when a young adult). The zine will be unabashedly partisan. She doesn’t really think it will make a difference. But she wants to try, and wishes everyone she knows would try too. Because –
“THE FUTURE IS GOOD. YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE IN IT! The future I come from depends on this.”
Three years ago this woman in the audience met a man who had worked as a futures analyst for businesses, who said much the same thing: that a better future depends on all of us believing in it strongly enough to make it real. Three days ago this woman read an interview with the painter Pauline Boty, who died in 1966, in which she talked about hopelessness, that sense of “what can you do” and said: “it all depends on what you think of as better. Hitler probably believed that he was going to make the world a better place.” Time moves in circles, present past present future past future past present, and the woman on stage says –
“You’ve been struck by a deep and heavy sadness for a long time. An abysmal darkness that has pulled you down and out of this world. The woman on stage could see it. And now you’re sitting and hoping that the woman will come back. You want to believe. You want to dream. You want to imagine worlds that don’t already exist.”
And this woman in the audience sitting at the computer wonders if anything she’s writing makes sense. Whether she needs to explain the entrances and exits, or mention how sometimes clunky they felt. What she thinks about the decision to use soft pale clay to cover the dark brown skin of the woman on stage, turning her body white under stage lights. If anything she thinks other than “it’s good, go see it” matters. Her eyes flicker to the notepad of Michael Billington, sitting in the row ahead of her. She predicts he will give Land Without Dreams three stars. On the way home she shakes her head at this small imagining.
that you can imagine
says the woman on stage. Or, as the artist Ken Friedman instructed: Imagine a life. Live it.
Land Without Dreams is on at the Gate Theatre till 7th December. More info here.