Review: I Dreamed a Dream, Festival Theatre

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It’s Susan Boyle’s vulnerability that captures people. The face may not quite fit the voice but the genuine feeling and expression in that voice resonates with people all over the globe.

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They tuned into a talent show to witness just another eccentric contestant get their marching orders and unexpectedly found themselves invested in the life of a little woman from Blackburn.

For Boyle, that intensity of interest has been simultaneously her making and undoing, the implications of which have been captured with 
beguiling honesty, dignity and generosity in Elaine C Smith and Alan McHugh’s sensitively handled script.

Playing Boyle throughout the stages of her life, Smith reminds us of the ordinariness of the singer. She’s the lady you wouldn’t look at twice on the 26 bus. Yet she also shares the experiences we have all had, particularly the sad loss of loved ones, the first act of the musical given over to the challenges and joys in Boyle’s early years.

The second half of the production deals with the extraordinary rise of Boyle’s star and the difficulty she has experienced in dealing with the sudden fame that was thrust upon her. The message Smith is keen to impart to her audience is that everyone is allowed to dream and that anyone can achieve their dreams, but she is also rather protective of Boyle in the process.

The show offers an off-hand and almost apologetic explanation as to why Boyle is so uncomfortable with public appearances rather than the deeper exploration of the machinations of the music industry and it’s relationship with the media that it could have been.

Boyle’s manager Andy Stephens, played by Jeffrey Harmer, tells the last part of Boyle’s story, reassuring the audience that the singer does have people looking out for her, that performing is entirely her choice.

One can only hope that this sentiment is genuine, particularly as the curtain rises and Smith gives up the stage to Susan Boyle herself for a one-night-only surprise appearance, bringing the audience to their feet for a standing ovation before she’d even opened her mouth to sing signature song I Dreamed A Dream, her vocal performance easily batting Smith’s mellifluous musical efforts out of court like a shuttlecock in a hurricane.

Run ends September 29