I first reviewed Paragon Dreams at the Hull Truck Theatre, in the Spring of 2019, and was very impressed with Hester Ullyart, who is not only the writer, but the play’s only performer.
As all the theatres are closed, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the kind folk at Hull Truck have thrown a lifeline to us regular theatregoers by providing a screening of the play on YouTube.
But would I be as impressed the second time around?
Well, the first thing I noticed, during this filmed production, was how colourful the stage setting was. My memory is of a dark stage with the occasional strip light. Watching from my sofa, in totally untheatrical surroundings, however, those lights turned out to be orange, blue, red, purple and gold, which gave me a whole new perspective.
Plus, the camerawork showed Hester from different angles - often zooming in for a close-up, while at other times filming from the side. I loved it.
The story centres around Hull girl, Hannah (Hester Ullyart), who, living in London, heads to Kings Cross station to catch a train back to the city of her birth, after hearing that the bones of a woman have been found - bones believed to be that of someone who disappeared 15 years ago; Hannah’s mother.
Pregnant by her boyfriend Jack, and now in her thirties, Hannah’s journey is fraught with frustration from the start. Her train is cancelled, she didn’t fancy a “five-hour journey on a busy with a broken toilet”, so she drives through the night in torrential rain.
Unable to find accommodation she heads for the man she knew during her childhood as “mummy’s special friend” - a man called Stan who runs a launderette in the city.
Hannah’s mother, a club singer who went by the name of Michaela Midnight, left Hannah on a ghost train at the annual Hull Fair, and it was left up to Stan to “care” for her - I use the term “care” lightly.
Though shocked to see her, Stan offers Hannah a room.
During her short stay in Hull, history comes back to haunt Hannah. We discover she had been raped as a teen by another of her mother’s men friends, resulting in a pregnancy. Even more shocking, her daughter, Amber, is still with the rapist, a man called Ian, who physically mistreats her.
Witnessing one such distressing incident between her daughter and Ian, brings things to a head for Hannah, and she determines to protect Amber as best she can.
Stan, meanwhile, lives in hope that Michaela will return one day and has kept all her glittery stage frocks and lined a room at the launderette with her photographs.
When Stan is out, Hannah finds this room, puts on one of her mother’s red sequinned evening dresses and starts to sing one of her songs. I must add here, that Hester, as Hannah, has the most wonderful singing voice.
While Stan has spent the past 15 years waiting for his lost love to return, Hannah has spent that time worrying if the truth of her mother’s death will ever come out. Only she knows what happened on the fateful day her mother died.
But her main mission now is to “rescue” her daughter - a mixed-up girl who doesn’t know Hannah is her mother.
There is a happy ending of sorts in Paragon Dreams, but we are also left with a woman, Hannah, whose loyalties are divided. Should she stay to look after her damaged daughter or take her back to London and hope her boyfriend, Jack, accepts the situation? Or maybe leave to her own fate in Hull and head back to the capital? Or spill the beans about how her mother died? Decisions, decisions.
The first time I watched Paragon Dreams, for some reason I concentrated on Hannah’s horrible life with her mother. Yet that took a back seat this time around, as my main focus was on Hannah and her daughter, Amber.
Due to the aforementioned camerawork, the stage setting was even more dramatic this time. Hester Ullyart is a marvel, keeping her audience (whether in a theatre or on a screen) enthralled for over an hour. She looked good and sounded even better. Taking on all the voices - the Scottish twang of Stan, the childish voice of Amber to name just two, is no mean feat. She was aided and abetted by perfectly timed soundtracks - her boyfriend Jack’s voice came in at exactly the right time, as did other off-stage sounds.
As I said in my first review last year, with such a sparse stage setting a good imagination is called for. And, if you don’t like bad language, don’t watch.
But, I’m so glad I gave this a second viewing. There are so many facets to this story, I wouldn’t be surprised if, after watching it for a third time, I see yet another side to Paragon Dreams. https://www.hulltruck.co.uk/hull-truck-at-home/screening-past-productions/
*Recommended age 14+
Reviewer: Jackie Foottit
Reviewed: 8th April 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★