Initial signs had been positive for I Dreamed a Dream. It had been treated with caution but eventually taken seriously by national and regional press, and reviews from them had been good. With the best will in the world though, this show doesn’t amount to anything it is capable of, and that is a sad waste of a tale born for the musical theatre treatment.
I Dreamed a Dream, should you need the background, tells the consummate modern day rags-to-riches tale of Britain’s Got Talent success story Susan Boyle; her humble beginnings in a Scottish village, and the personal tragedies behind her success. And — AND — the lady herself makes an appearance at the end.
It turns out the revelation of the real Ms Boyle is the only redeeming feature of this dull, lifeless show, which despite best efforts neither successfully scales the highs or hits the lows of her life story enough to really work. Boyle’s family life has has its tragedies; her own rise to fame has been extraordinary; it’s all potentially very dramatic stuff — but why you’d care on the strength of this is beyond me.
Actress Elaine C Smith, who plays the lead, wrote the show with Boyle’s input, and very sensitively too. But it’s just not jazzy enough for the Empire stage. The set, a strange set up of towering television sets, illuminated with cheap animation, is just awful. The style, which has characters speaking out to the audience instead of to each other, is generally quite naff. I Dreamed a Dream could either do with the indie treatment, and turn up a bit DIY at a smaller venue; or alternatively work as a Simon Cowell-approved arena moneyspinner (perhaps it speaks volumes that it is not that), but it just did not work as it was.
The show was riddled with over-simplistic cliche, and when the character of Boyle’s manager appeared three-quarters of the way through, seemingly existing only to explain how unbearable the singer found it to perform in front of crowds, it was like some kind of back up plan in case the real deal wasn’t feeling up to performing. Talk about lowering expectations.
The idea of somebody making a cameo appearance in their own life story is rather comical. The story touches on the kind of pressure Boyle was under as she rose to fame, which explains a lot about what the poor lady went through. And this show is dogged by rumours she won’t even turn up at the end, which goes to show people still don’t expect much from her. It would seem that for all her international success, she is still undermined.
In the end, it certainly wasn’t Susan Boyle that let this production down, rather than the show itself being an unchallenging, uninspiring heap of simplified dross; more a work in progress than a complete play, something only redeemed by the genuine sweetness of the voice of our heroine herself.
The story of Susan Boyle could have made a brilliant musical theatre show — the edit of the five minute clip of her first Britain’s Got Talent audition is testament to that — but this was not it. A shame.