He Dreamed a Train (Force of Circumstance)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre
October 15 – 26
As a concept, Margi Brown-Ash’s “He Dreamed a Train” is a simple story: a sister is in a room, telling a tale of family in bitter-sweet lament of the loss of her beloved brother and, in doing so, sharing a way of looking at the world. It is a simplicity that is emphasised by the show’s initial silences as we watch her move around the room completing ritualistic tasks. Even when the words eventually come forth, full of wisdom and big-picture ponderment about the notion of pre-mapping as a means to locate oneself (borrowing from her two previous works “Eve” and “Home”), the personal subject matter is immediately resonate; the show is named after brother David Brown’s book by the same name.
Despite its short running time, “He Dreamed a Train” is packed full of poignant moments for audience contemplation thanks to poetic language which is evocative in creating an eloquent examination of the rituals of memory and grief. However, ultimately, this is a hymn to the spirit of family. And while at times, the narrative may be a little confusing, such as with the appearance of a young man (Travis Ash) as the brother’s younger self, it is a show that is infused with grace thanks to the performance of its creator. So often a vivacious character actor, this time she appears calmly contemplative in her reflection, whether her delivery be a conversation with self, audience or her brother, which adds a quiet esteem to the experience.
The real star of the show, however, is staging. The realism of the country house setting is evident down to the smallest of details, such as a creaking door. There is never question as to the authenticity of the old family farmhouse in which her brother chooses to live in suffering from of a degenerative disease. And thanks to a rich lighting pallet and bushland-soundscape, it is brought to life before our eyes. Even the painted landscape adorning the wall is generic in its ordinariness. But all is not as its seems and thanks to a spectacular technology show from Nathan Sibthorpe and Freddy Komp, the picture is soon brought to impressive life, transforming into a dripping palette in reflection of the story’s fragmented dreaminess, much like the nature of memory itself, for as the saying goes, while young, it’s all dreams; when old, all memories.
“He Dreamed a Train” is a personal show, not just in its origin, but in its impression; how you respond to the show will perhaps depend on your family specifics. Some sections feel unnecessarily indulgent, such as Travis Ash’s dramatisation of The Myth of Er, as part of recollection of childhood adventures and the sibling game of acting out ancient Greek myths. And the lack of a clear, discernable narrative may make it an acquired taste. It is layered and intense; it may leave you drained, it may leave you nostalgic and it will probably take you a while to digest, resonating as only good theatre experiences can.