Magazine article The Spectator

Dreaming with Stephen

Magazine article The Spectator

Dreaming with Stephen

Article excerpt

The word 'dream' has different meanings, as in the greetings card: 'May all your dreams come true, except the one about the giant hairy spiders'. Martin Luther King never said, 'Brothers and sisters, I have a dream, and in this dream I am shipwrecked with my wife's sister, with 2,000 tins of spinach, and for some reason Doris Day is there as well . . . ' 'Dream' meaning 'longed-for desire' is, I suppose, short for day-dream, in which you are in control of the fantasy. Most real dreams consist only of bizarre and surreal situations, meaningless juxtapositions. Sometimes, even when awake, you think you must be dreaming. The other day (I have mentioned this in the Guardian) I found myself sitting next to Princess Michael of Kent at lunch, discussing how to rub suntan oil into the ears of baby elephants. I expected to wake up any minute.

These thoughts came to mind while watching Joe's Palace (BBC1, Sunday), the first in a trilogy of Stephen Poliakoff plays.

Mr Poliakoff is fortunate. The BBC has lavished an entire year of Jonathan Ross's salary -- possibly more -- to make these films.

They trusted him so much that he gets to write and direct himself. This is generally a mistake. The most brilliant novelist needs an editor, and every playwright needs someone to say, 'Look, Steve, it's no good telling us that this character has a terrible temper if you never show it. Lose that, will you?' Or, 'Frankly, old chap, this is far too long, ' which they should have said.

Yet I watched to the end, and enjoyed it, in the same way that you enjoy most dreams, and the way they resonate next day, even though you haven't the faintest idea what they meant. The whole scenario was dreamlike, sleep-walking from one scene to a different situation to a third for no apparent reason. A quiet, perhaps autistic boy from a sink estate finds work guarding an empty house owned by a shy billionaire, who is worried that his family fortune was earned dishonourably. The boy buys several kilos of meat at the deli, and eats two whole lobsters in a Chinese restaurant (it's a very food-intensive play). In each place he pays by waving a piece of red plastic. A Cabinet minister visits with his beautiful mistress. The girl from the deli is hired to go through the billionaire's papers. A rough sleeper pursues Joe round the house with a knife, but the security guard is dead drunk. All dreamlike, all absurd. …

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