It was with a little trepidation I took my seat on the opening night of the new touring production, I Dreamed a Dream. Familiar with the Susan Boyle story, or so I thought, I wasn’t entirely sure how this would translate into an evening of musical theatre, could her story really captivate a packed theatre for two and a half hours? Even speaking to two audience members who’d travelled from Japan just to be here, I still had my reservations.
I needn’t have worried; within minutes of the first act starting it soon became clear that this was something special. Elaine C Smith’s sensitive and loving portrayal of the shy miner’s daughter from Blackburn, West Lothian was exceptional. Stepping into Boyle’s shoes Smith (who co-wrote the script with Alan McHugh) takes on the role of both performer and narrator, guiding us smoothly through the years leading up to the infamous BGT audition. She is faultless in her portrayal of Boyle and her heartfelt performance of Wild Horses is worth the admission price alone.
Though a rather sad story at times, the humour and sensitivity of the script touchingly illustrates the most poignant scenes from Boyle’s life. When told of Boyle’s mild learning disability and of what she “can’t do” we see Boyle’s parents movingly state all that they care about is what she “can and will do” complimented beautifully through a well placed song, The joy is in the child.
The bullying “Simple Susan” experienced throughout her school years is creatively worked into the story and allows the audience to gain a further understanding of Boyle’s complex character. Morgan Large’s set although simple is very effective, a full wall of TV screens which flicker with imagery scene after scene.
Using familiar songs such as, Someone to watch over me, Perfect Day and Daydream Believer, Director Ed Curtis guides us through Boyle’s difficult start to life, challenging childhood and the heartbreak of her father forbidding her the chance of love with school friend John because she was, “not ready for a boyfriend”. We observe the sadness Boyle experienced with the loss of her sister, Father and Mother and the profound impact this had upon her character.
The second half of the show covers the more familiar parts of the story we already know, we see Boyle successfully audition for BGT allowing us to gain further insight into the impact becoming such a global overnight success had upon the shy singer. The show chooses not to make reference to Boyle’s mean treatment by Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden and Pierce Morgan before they’d heard her sing but one couldn’t help feel someone should have been looking after her. However Boyle’s fighting spirit shines through and we see her battle her demons to take centre stage once again.
It is at this point the real Susan Boyle makes a guest appearance to remind us why we’re all here. Greeted with a standing ovation before she even sings it is clear Boyle has the audience well and truly in the palm of her hand. Along with being treated to I Dreamed a Dream and Who I was Born to Be, we also get to see the cheeky playful side of her the fans clearly love, when a voice from the audience shouts, “give us a wiggle” she’s more than happy to oblige!
The show is emotional, funny, thought provoking and brilliantly acted, a real treat.
I Dreamed A Dream
Palace Theatre, Manchester
Tuesday 19th-Saturday 23rd June
Times Weds/Sat 2.30pm Weds Thurs Fri Sat 7.30pm