The Dream is a semi-autobiographical story. Set as it is over a period of some months (perhaps longer), it feels like a condensed adaptation of a substantially-sized novel. No cast or character list was available for the audience, so performers must, unfortunately, go uncredited. It’s a triumph over adversity plotline, involving a family of four at its core, including husband and wife Fabrice and Betty; at a fairly large periphery sits various parties who, either by default or design, encounter the family as they seek to restore what they had to begin with – a civilised life, able to go about their business in peace.
Fabrice’s conscience has him siding with the opposition party in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as Zaire, and not to be confused with the Republic of the Congo). Daring to go up against ‘The President’, (presumably, given that the name ‘Mobutu’ is mentioned by the ensemble, Mobutu Seke Seko (1930-1997), played by an actor identified only as Bentley on the show’s Twitter page), Fabrice is given the sort of treatment dictators tend to give to those who are dissenters. Despite the best efforts of Christian missionaries, he is separated from his family and held in custody. Some other particulars as to what happened to him need not be dramatized (indeed, they are not).
Rather confusingly, early on in proceedings, a woman calls a meeting to order, which appears to be adjourned less than a minute later to allow the attendees a chance to digest every minute detail of a particular report into crimes against humanity in the DRC. She then demands to speak to ‘The President’ (it later transpires she has had a personal conversation with the President of the United States). Her platitudes about needing to take immediate action about the upsurge in warfare, sexual abuse even of children, and starvation, became highly irritating, especially when no specifics were ever given.
This was, I assume, a deliberate attempt to demonstrate how ineffective organisations with an interest in responding to overseas crises can be when push comes to shove. But I would not have known from the narrative that the lady in question was the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs – I only found that out later and had assumed she was the chief executive of a charitable organisation. This, together with some other details, need clarifying more explicitly.
The musical’s ‘I wish’ number is the first one out of the block, reprised in modified form as the final song. It’s quite harrowing once one realises all they really want to be able to do is “wake up” and “love”, things which aren’t necessarily taken for granted in countries enjoying peacetime but are things that one would be reasonably expected to be able to do without hindrance.
Given the hard-hitting nature of the plot, the musical numbers are not exactly overtly joyous with dazzling choreography. But there is one character who expresses happiness, and given the loyalty of his associates, his henchmen are happy too, The President does come across as a force to be reckoned with. In a musical number that I assume is called ‘This Country Is Mine’, some details about the sort of personal wealth he seeks to gather for himself is shocking and, as the tune is rather jaunty, ridiculous.
There’s plenty of religious language in this show, even beyond the conversations between the missionary workers assisting the family. This may have gone down well in St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, a consecrated Church of England place of worship, but some of it could do with some context. “He will deliver,” for example, just makes the Almighty sound like someone working for Uber Eats or Deliveroo, probably not the production’s intention. Betty’s faith seems very flaky both at face value and at a deeper level; she joins the missionaries in saying the ‘Our Father’ and claims to put her trust in her God, but then she panics – to a missionary, no less – at the first sign of trouble.
The repetition of both phrases and melodies emphasises certain points suitably – if there was a touch of melodrama included, one would be forgiven for wondering if this were an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. For me, the show ends too abruptly. Then again, many musicals end with a variation of ‘and they lived happily ever after’, and there is nothing wrong with leaving an audience wanting more. The script could do with a little tightening. But it’s an excellent effort, and a story worth hearing about: this is a production with poignancy and optimism. A line from Les Misérables comes to mind: “Even the darkest night will end / And the sun will rise”.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The Dream is a new musical written and directed by Nancy-Joseé Smith. The musical follows a family from the Congo who are forced to flee from their country due to war. Two Swedish missionaries help them flee the war-torn country to Norway. The scenes bring light to how it may feel to flee war, the sad reality of being a child soldier and the intervention of the United Nations in the country, the largest UN mission in the world. According to Nancy-Josée, “The Dream is about changed lives despite having gone through war. It is about how it is to be labelled as a refugee, even though you never asked for it. It is about love and people caring for each other, no matter the race, religion or background. It is about justice with a message of hope.” Doors open 7pm for a 7:30pm start.
St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden
Bedford St WC2E 9ED