I’ve never been to Dreamland, but I know its shape. It’s got kindred spirits nestled in the nooks and crannies of the Irish coast: bright sparks in otherwise grim towns bitten by dull grey sea. My memories of these places are fond, mostly categorised by the sharp tang of vodka and sea breeze on my tongue as we rushed the waltzers of some amusement park on the pebbly Bray seafront, eating vinegary chips and trying not to vomit.
These relics of seaside towns have become prime targets for ironic appreciation. Among the swaths of plastic pollution and feral sea gulls, gaggles of ‘hipsters on penny farthings’ descend, fistfuls of cash to spend on vintage frocks and elaborately flavoured mochas. The city changes. The prices rise. Margate/Dreamland is an intense and fearless rumination on the shape shifting town of Margate, told to a kaleidoscopic soundscape provided by synth-magicians AK/DK.
It’s an hour of high-octane performance that doesn’t stop for breath. Performers Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari discharge intensifying, fracturing narratives about the town as it shifts through the seasons, slumping from summer into forgotten winter and re-emerging, vibrant but irrevocably changed. Their words pour forth from music stands like a discordant symphony, a collision of tweets and quotes and vitriolic conversations that whirl from the poetic to the unintelligible, the proud to the disdainful and right back again, shattering every perspective on the town it’s possible to gather. It’s contradictory and complicated and harrowing and celebratory – your head spins with the sheer scope of the thing.
When I first stumbled out of the theatre into the still-bright night, it felt odd that a piece of art so clearly fuelled by love could bristle with such anger, but of course it does. It’s through a love of the place that the anger comes, rumbling and roaring like the sea itself. Margate/Dreamland cannot make sense of or resolve the trauma of a neglected seaside town’s sudden gentrification, its stagnant job opportunities or its disillusioned working class, but it can enshrine their voices in a tapestry of unrelenting sound, it can paint the beautiful alongside the wretched, it can turn up the volume until we’re forced to listen.
I did not make use of my box office-sanctioned ear plugs as the volume began to rise. Heart beating in my throat, I wanted to feel each vibration of the wild, unruly world Nigel and Louise have created. I wanted the mess of Dreamland to pour itself into me, with its melting ice creams and drunken teenagers and salty chips and frightening racist tirades. If I couldn’t fix or make sense of the conflicting narratives, at least here, drowned in remorseless voices and pounding sound, I could swallow them whole.
Margate/Dreamland was on at Shoreditch Town Hall. For more of their programme, click here.