The Dreamer Examines His Pillow is one of the earlier stage plays written by John Patrick Shanley, the playwright best known for his Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning stage play Doubt: A Parable. That the playwright still had nearly three decades of plays to write and awards to win when he finished The Dreamer is quite apparent when watching it being performed. Just as Shanley had greatness yet to come when he penned this tale of male angst in his homeland The Bronx, so too are there flashes of brilliance in this production at The Old Red Lion Theatre. However, there are also moments of jarring inertia, when the audience is left to wonder whether we are to believe or even care about each character’s plight at all, because they are just so emotional and despairing that it becomes a little too much to handle.

Tommy, played by Kieran Moloney, is at what could be described as a bit of a loose end. He’s painted a rather unflattering and worrying self-portrait, and sits looking at it in his dump of a flat on his threadbare sofa. His ex-girlfriend Donna (Stacie Bono) bursts into his flat and his life again to supposedly tell him to stay away from her sister, but really to stare at the man she still loves and wonder with fear if he will turn out just like her deadbeat Dad (Jason Will). The play centres around Tommy’s inability to make things work in his life and whether the love of Donna, and in parts his possible future self in Donna’s father, can save him or only cause more anguish. Tommy is a poetic soul, and Stanley’s soliloquies for the character are full of images so vivid you can taste them, with Moloney’s unhinged performance even making this reviewer forget the stage and feel a little uncomfortable to be in a room with him. However, everyone in Shanley’s world here is poetic – and it comes to a point when you begin to wonder if the reason why no one is able to succeed out of the three is because they’re so damn busy standing around and shouting melodramatic non sequiturs all the time rather than getting anything done.

That’s maybe a harsh statement, as when you look past the outbursts there’s an interesting line of reflection on the role of love and family to be followed in The Dreamer. Designers Celestine Healey and Emma Witter have created a cavernous pit of a home for Stanley’s characters to interact (and despair) and that only seems to intensify this feeling of being on the edge of love and hopelessness and works well as a habitat for Tommy’s feelings of rootlessness. There also are very occasionally some twangs of dodgy Noo Yoick accents amongst all the reflecting, but this doesn’t particularly affect or alter the intense atmosphere created. Instead, Shanley’s desire for everything to be at fever pitch all the time, something he would tone down considerably by the time he wrote Doubt: The Parables, wears down the audience until they are left feeling as tired and dazed as the play’s central character.

Reviews by Laura Cress

The Courtyard

King Lear with Sheep

★★★
Soho Theatre

Bears in Space

★★★★
St Paul's Church, Covent Garden

Twelfth Night

★★★★
International Anthony Burgess Foundation / Underground Venues

After Party

★★★★
Arcola Theatre

Clarion

★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

The Blurb

The Bronx, 1983. Landlords burn their own buildings. Sons steal from mothers. Everyone seeks escape. Reaganomics. The rise of the new millionaire. Money can buy happiness. At least, that’s what they tell you on TV.

Sat in a dingy apartment staring into the void, Tommy, a twenty-something down-and-out is in search of the meaning behind it all. Enter ex-girlfriend Donna - hurt, vengeful, and damn right pissed. ‘How could you do that? Do you hate me?’ He looks to the self-portrait for answers. Hopeless. Maybe Donna’s dad can knock some sense into him.

Most Popular See More

The Mousetrap

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Frozen the Musical

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Dear Evan Hansen

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £12.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Grease the Musical

From £20.00

More Info

Find Tickets