Culture Vulture: Sleep

To sleep, perchance to dream …

It’s the cardinal sin of theatregoing. Nodding off during a performance is right up there with the most damning of audience faux pas, somewhere in between giving a loudly whispered blow by blow account of the on stage action to your companion and answering your mobile phone. It can also be, as anyone who has witnessed their neighbour’s head drooping perilously close to their tub of interval ice-cream can affirm, extremely funny.

For some, though, catching a sneaky forty winks in the stalls is no joke. The Independent’s theatre critic Paul Taylor had rather a rude awakening at the Old Vic’s recent production of Cause Célèbre, starring Anne-Marie Duff, as he was dragged up from the depths of snoozeville by the wrath of Duff’s indignant hubby James McAvoy. A harsh lesson for bleary-eyed critics everywhere.

Perhaps Taylor would have been better off with Duckie’s quirky new show at the Barbican. Lullaby, essentially a novel B&B with some soporific theatrics and what appear from the publicity images to be dancing green octopuses, is designed to gently send its audience members off to the land of Nod. Cosily tucked up in their single, double or even triple beds (spooning allowed, but strictly no funny business), theatregoers are lulled off to sleep with a mixture of bedtime stories, songs and, presumably, octopuses. I personally can think of few things less conducive to slumber than a crowd of tentacled sea creatures, but maybe that’s just me.

For those who do manage to drop off, Lullaby‘s unique method of inducing sleep certainly seems guaranteed to produce some wacky dreams. Short of munching on a whole block of cheese before bedtime or indulging in some not strictly legal substances, there can be few other subconscious trips as potent as the kind that Duckie are promising. And Freud would definitely have something to say about those tentacles.

Duckie are far from the first to uncover the creative possibilities of sleep. In the heady days of the Romantic age, Samuel Taylor Coleridge discovered for himself the inspiring qualities of a few zzz’s as he dozed off in his chair and awoke to scribble down the gorgeously loopy ‘Kubla Khan’, one of the great poems of his era. Admittedly, Coleridge’s vision was fuelled by opium as much as by imagination; audience members at Lullaby might have to have their cocoa spiked quite heavily before they begin spouting lines about fantastic pleasure-domes.

Tracing the benefits of sleep back even further, the somewhat questionable wisdom of Sleeping Beauty has for hundreds of years taught little girls everywhere that a few decades of slumber is all that’s needed to deliver them the prince of their dreams. The wonderful hindsight of age, however, brings with it the realisation that the idea of a strange man creeping into your room to steal a kiss while you’re sleeping is not such a fairytale after all.

While there’s nothing wrong with a nice kip, Paul Taylor’s unwelcome wake-up call demonstrates that, Lullaby aside, a theatre auditorium – or in fact any public place where the opportunity for embarrassment is ripe – is not the best place for a nap. So unless you’re an opium guzzling poet or a narcoleptic princess, it might be best to keep the snoozing between the sheets.


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