REVIEW: A Theatre for Dreamers, Polly Samson #BLOGTOUR

Thursday, 26 March 2020


1960. The world is dancing on the edge of revolution, and nowhere more so than on the Greek island of Hydra, where a circle of poets, painters and musicians live tangled lives, ruled by the writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston, troubled king and queen of bohemia. Forming within this circle is a triangle: its points the magnetic, destructive writer Axel Jensen, his dazzling wife Marianne Ihlen, and a young Canadian poet named Leonard Cohen. 
Into their midst arrives teenage Erica, with little more than a bundle of blank notebooks and her grief for her mother. Settling on the periphery of this circle, she watches, entranced and disquieted, as a paradise unravels. 

Polly Samson’s A Theatre for Dreamers is a love song to a bygone age; a testament to youth, to creativity, to boundless energy. It zings with colours, scents, melodies; brings to life the island of Hydra and the spirit of those who were drawn to it, in all of their complicated, vivid glory. Reading its pages, its audience will see the blue of the limitless, surrounding ocean; will crave the scent of the spitting, cooking food and walks upon its rolling green hills.
Standing in 2020, the 60s seems like a different world but, the setting of A Theatre for Dreamers inhabits the very fringes of its swinging contemporary society. The island of Hydra markets itself as standing free from the rules and the restraints of dreary London town; poses as a safe haven to the most restless of bohemian souls.
But, is it just a mirage? Is the theatre just that: a place for people playing a part while the same old rules rest below the surface?
Because, if you dig a little deeper (as Samson is so eager to do), the same structures of inequality have wheedled their way into the island’s daily life. No matter how equal the relationships are supposed to be, women do the lion’s share of the work; relieving their male partners of domestic duties and allowing their dreams and their creativity to thrive.
But, what about the dreams and creativity of their own?
Their subservience to their so-called equals and the way, as explored in protagonist Erica, that the power-balances shift ever-so-slowly as not to be recognised until servitude has been reached and their own artistic ambitions tossed aside, is a central theme of Samson’s startlingly vivid novel. It shows the fruitless search for a room of their own, even on the vastness of a tranquil island paradise, and how, even those who are supposedly the most free from convention, are in fact the most bound to it.
So be careful what you wish for, because even that may not be as it seems.


Thanks to Bloomsbury and Anne Cater for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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