Porphyria

Sometimes your dreams coming true can be the very worst thing that could happen to you. Never have mother’s words to be careful what you wish for been more apt that in C.J. Wilmann’s haunting new play, performed by Nottingham University’s New Theatre.

Reginald Blake (Nick Jeffrey) is a bored man in a humdrum marriage. His relationship with his unnamed wife (Liz Stevens) comes with every sit-com cliché in the scriptwriter’s book: she nags him to take out the rubbish, he puts it in the wrong bin; she gives him the choice of what to have for supper, by the time he’s decided she’s started cooking the other thing. They play Scrabble and can’t agree if “seldomly” is a word. Blake’s one consolation is the fantasy woman who fills his dreams. One day he awakes to find that his fantasy woman (Genevieve Cunnell) has stepped out of his dreams and is now his son’s au pair.

So far the plot seems firmly situated in Saturday night sit-com territory. With the appearance of the au pair, however, things take a much darker turn as Reginald starts to discover the price that attaining the dream woman will have on his marriage and his sanity. This is brave, dark stuff, for the most part handled well by Wilmann. The difficulty lies in the transition from comedy to psychological thriller; the change is simply too sudden, which throws the pace of the play. Wilmann adapted Porphyria from a longer play he had written and it shows. It's a great shame, because the later thriller scenes are genuinely disorientating and creepy, if a little too heavy on dramatic devices. The very final scene provides an unsatisfactory conclusion that feels tacked on.

Reginald Jeffrey gives a thoughtful performance as a cheerful everyman whose decline is all the more frightening. In the early comedic scenes he does have the unfortunate, occasional tendency towards exaggerated face-pulling. The two women both have to contend with parts that are thin and flat in comparison to Reginald; both imbue them with considerable vigour. Stevens makes the interesting decision to play the wife as a passive aggressive ice maiden, an unsympathetic portrayal that swings the audience’s allegiance very much towards Reginald.

This is a play which, like a dream, promises much and comes tantalisingly close to delivering. The cast give nuanced performances, there is some clever writing, and the Rubiks-cube-like set is a treat. Ultimately though, it ends in a bit of a disappointment.

Reviews by Charlotte Kelly

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The Blurb

Every night Reginald Blake dreams of sex with his fantasy woman, a woman that is not his wife. One morning he awakes to find this fantasy come to life and eating breakfast in his kitchen.

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