Review: THE DREAM OF A RIDICULOUS MAN, Marylebone Theatre

Greg Hicks' one man adaptation of Dostoyevsky's celebrated short story

By: Mar. 29, 2024
Review: THE DREAM OF A RIDICULOUS MAN, Marylebone Theatre
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Review: THE DREAM OF A RIDICULOUS MAN, Marylebone Theatre A trip away, even for a few days, sharpens one’s perception of home. After a short time in Geneva and the Alps, one sees more clearly London’s population of homeless men and women, of blank-eyed street drinkers, even of otherwise ordinary people who appear to be aimless, the world happening to them as time passes. There are plenty of reasons for such misery of course - the housing crisis, the cost of living, collapsing social services amongst others - but it’s there and it’s grim.

One such man amongst such men is the hero of Dostoyevsky’s short story, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, the action transplanted from 19th century St Petersburg to 21st century Hackney in Laurence Boswell’s timely adaptation. Played by Greg Hicks, angular, awkward and aggressive, the man goes on a journey without ever stepping far from his bedsit's front door and reaches, if not a place of safety, then a state in which he can not just function, but draw others towards the equanimity he has discovered.

At first, he is as far from such calm as can be. Losing everything - wife, job, self-esteem - he resolves to kill himself when he hits rock bottom. That nadir is reached when he barks at a kid, starving and frightened, barely able to speak English, whose mother has been lost to the perils young refugee women face every day in London. But instead of it pushing him over the edge, the disgrace of his reaction kindles a sense of pity within him, a perspective that there are those worse off than him, perhaps even a sense that he can do more. He puts down the gun and, for once, drifts into sleep before dawn and he dreams.    

He finds himself in a utopia in which he is accepted by a community wholly free of the pain he has witnessed in his own life. In this parallel world, love is the only currency, generosity is manifestation, peace its product. At first, he can barely believe it, so foreign are the ways of this idyll, but he soon settles into its culture and he is happy.

Inadvertently, he introduces a lie and things start to unravel. This new world becomes more and more like his old world until, as in Animal Farm, one cannot tell one from the other. But he does not despair at this development - on waking he retains the vision of mankind as it was when he landed on the paradise island. He knows that it can be done and he resolves to tell people of his revelation and to rescue the girl.

Review: THE DREAM OF A RIDICULOUS MAN, Marylebone Theatre

It’s highly symbolic stuff of course and there are times when the the going gets heavy, but Hicks is a compelling presence, often finding humour when the situation is at its bleakest and just enough of a twinkle in the eye to avoid extolling the excessive naivity of the brave new world in which he wakes up. His diction is excellent too, a crucial point for any one-person show. 

Though he is the focus, he’s supported by Loren Elstein’s design  and Ben Ormerod’s lighting, suggesting nightmarish dark and dangerous streets and sunny, sandy beaches. Every so often, we tiptoe on the edge of throwing our hands in the air and wanting a little grit in the oyster, wondering if one might need to be set a little off-balance to avoid the complacency that seeps into a perfect life, but there’s always some darkness, some mystery in the design to remind us that the sunniest of days still casts a few shadows.

Out into the night, one might not want to meet The Ridiculous Man at Hyde Park Corner preaching of the perfectibility of man, exhorting us to follow the path he envisioned, but one contemplates the politics of this election year in so many countries and one wonders. To vote (indeed to talk relentlessly) against the world at this low ebb is one thing, but to hope for something better is another, more noble, more vital, calling. Dostoyevsky’s Man rescued himself - collectively we must have a dream too and articulate it convincingly to ourselves. Perhaps only then will we be rescued from what looks more and more like an existential crisis with every passing day. 

The Dream of a Ridiculous Man at Marylebone Theatre until 20 April

Photo Credits: Mark Senior