Dream, Sleep, Connect Production Photo courtesy of c21 Theatre Company
Dream, Sleep, Connect, written by Rosemary Jenkinson and directed by Stephen Kelly, is a play driven by socialising, media and social media where the overall strength arises more in retrospect than in the moment. Chuckles are loud and empathy, if not sympathy, is frequent while you're sitting in the theatre, but only later does the tragic, intelligent realism of the seventy-five minute, one act piece dawn upon us. Such is the strength of Richard Clements' and Maria Connolly's performances, the latter acting for three, on a stripped down but effective Paula McCafferty set that creates the dark and gloomy atmosphere we're looking for.
What we've got here, if you're looking for any comparisons, is part Blade Runner, part Take Me Out and a whole lot more, a deliberate soullessness married to an equally deliberate longing for fun, if not love. As Chris, a programmer in IT solution provider Connexia (the name of the company alone is satirical in context), Clements is dedicated and determined, yet dissatisfied and downbeat, intimidated by the watchful gaze of his boss Lucy (Connolly) while he seeks for a technological solution to the Irish border. Joining Tinder, he finds a date, Tanya, and a girlfriend, Cora (Connolly and Connolly, successfully differentiated by hair, costumes and make-up) - and it is here where Jenkinson and Kelly delight in unveiling complexities.
Sadness especially. Even as we laugh, there is a devastation in Connolly's portrayals of Lucy, Tanya and Cora, aided by the pivotal Clements. Where Lucy transcends the odd Arlene Foster frown here and there and ultimately lets a painful frustration emerge, Tanya and Cora are reflections of wishful thinking on two ends of a stylistic and expressive scale. The former, looking like a reject from the Give My Head Peace set, projects faux confidence and put-downs as a means of exulting a depressing superiority over poor Chris. The latter, in her beanie hat and raincoat, is the kind of girl you really want to hug - all self-esteem drained from someone who has forgotten how to trust. Both girls are trying to "protect" themselves, it seems, but in different ways - they are the sort who have forgotten how to dream, sleep or connect. People who no longer remember how to trust, or love, even if they really want to - permanent mavericks who prefer to survive on their own terms. A little like Chris and Lucy.
Yet there is a sort of positivity in this bleaker than bleak scenario. Within Jenkinson's script rests an encouragement to strike the right balance between being a maverick and being a role model. To be someone who earns admiration from bravery while also remembering to set a good example for future generations, lest we lose - for want of better words - any hope of dreaming, sleeping and connecting. In that sense, the play might simply be about looking after yourself - and in today's circumstances, that message is more than welcome. It's essential.
Dream, Sleep, Connect, a c21 Theatre Company production, runs at Belfast's Lyric Theatre until Saturday February 22 before going on a tour of Northern Ireland until Saturday March 7. For more information click here.