When you enter the Etcetera Theatre for Dissociated, you are asked whether this is your first-time lucid dreaming. To my amusement, most people quickly answered yes. I assume because they misunderstood the question or perhaps they were already on board for the evening ahead. As you take your seat, you see someone lying on a mattress in their pyjamas on the floor. There’s also a piñata dangling from the ceiling, a projection screen and two white chairs. Certain audience members are then handed various objects such as a teddy bear or a scarf, which will later come in handy.
In Dissociated, the entire musical takes place in Alex’s (Eloise Jones) troubled mind as she floats into a psychological state known as lucid dreaming. Alex is not fully awake, nor is she asleep. Rather, she is conscious that she’s dreaming and is conscious of the presence of the audience as spectators in her dream. She is joined by a visualisation of herself, (portrayed by Georgia Imrie) who appears as Alex but at different ages.
At the end of Dissociated, writer and director Dave Bain tells the audience, if you liked it share it on social media, but if you didn’t – lie. Although I’m usually one to do what I’m told, I’d be doing a disservice to show, which was clearly a labour of love, if I didn’t share my honest thoughts on it. So here we go.
For the majority of the time, I didn’t follow all that was happening. It was only when it was later explained that the show was about survivors of child sex abuse that it pulled into much sharper focus what the past roughly two and a half hours had been about. I don’t say this to spoil the plot, rather I think it’s important information to have from the offset to help make sense of all that you will see.
I’m sure there were others who understood what was happening immediately, probably because they thought to look up what the show was about before seeing it. With hindsight, I should have done the same.
On reflection, I can’t fault the production and its execution of some fairly complex ideas, ideas around how the effects of childhood trauma can forcefully manifest itself in later life. It was an unusual experience and I envision many will react to it in different ways. It deals with a heavy subject matter and can be confusing in parts but equally, it feels like one of a kind.
Alex finds herself slipping into this lucid dreaming state when she is overwhelmed or when she has trouble sleeping. At the start, Alex appears to be an ordinary lady in her twenties. But during an imagined therapy session, she confesses how the version of herself that she presents to her close friends is miles apart from how she feels inside. During the show, Alex’s mental health worsens as things fall apart at university, with her fiancé and in her family and this chaos is reflected in her lucid dreams. It is difficult to see her deterioration unfold, which is a credit to Bain’s direction and the performances from Jones and Imrie.
The music in the show starts off breezy and light and there’s a fun tap dancing sequence to showcase Jones’ and Imrie’s skills. But it later darkens in tone. The songs are easy enough to follow as the chorus and its associated choreography will often be repeated. (For a taster, a short clip of one of the songs can be found in the twitter video below).
So it’s true that I struggled to comprehend Dissociated at the start. However I’ve later come to appreciate how wildly creative this production is and how much food for thought it provides.
Dissociated is running at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden until 26 October 2019 at the time of writing.