Caryl Churchill's version of August Strindberg's 1901 drama A Dream Play was written for the director Katie Mitchell, based on a literal translation of the Swedish original by Charlotte Barslund. It was first performed, with additional material by Katie Mitchell and the company, in the Cottesloe auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 15 February 2005 (previews from 4 February).
A young woman, Agnes (the daughter of the gods), comes from another world to see if life is really as difficult as people make it out to be. She meets a host of people and experiences many kinds of human suffering. The play follows a dreamlike logic, with characters merging into each other and locations changing in an instant. A locked door becomes an obsessively recurrent image. As Strindberg himself wrote in his Preface, he wanted 'to imitate the disjointed yet seemingly logical shape of a dream. Everything can happen, everything is possible and probable. Time and place do not exist.'
In her introduction to the published edition (Nick Hern Books, 2005), Churchill writes 'on the whole this version stays close to the original. What I've mostly done is tighten the dialogue and cut out a few chunks. ... I've cut things that seemed repetitive; sometimes I've cut bits that just seemed to me or Katie not to work very well. And I've cut the meaning of life. ... When it turns out there's nothing behind the fridge door, the daughter of the gods promises the writer she'll tell him the secret when they're alone. What she says may have seemed more original or daring when Strindberg wrote it, but seems a bit of an anticlimax to us. So in this version she whispers it to the writer and we never know what it is. But was telling us the meaning of life one of the main points of the play for Strindberg? I hope not. I do feel abashed at cutting another writer's work; directors have fewer qualms.'
The National Theatre premiere, directed by Katie Mitchell and directed by Vicki Mortimer, was performed by an ensemble company comprising Mark Arends, Anastasia Hille, Kristin Hutchinson, Sean Jackson, Charlotte Roach, Dominic Rowan, Justin Salinger, Susie Trayling, Lucy Whybrow and Angus Wright.