Review: I Dreamed a Dream - King's Theatre, Glasgow ✭✭✭✭✭

In April 2009 an international sensation was born from Britain's Got Talent that would put Blackburn in West Lothian on the map and change the auditionee's life forever. The now infamous audition by Susan Boyle was a watershed moment for TV talent shows and in the years that have passed since no one has matched the furore that first audition caused globally.

Titled after the Les Misérables song of the same name that propelled Susan Boyle to stardom, the new musical I Dreamed a Dream tells the story of Susan Boyle's life through her perspective. Early on in Act One, Susan (played by Elaine C Smith) establishes why the audience might not be familiar with this version of Susan, it's because this is the Susan that she would like to be.  Here the writers have played an absolute masterstroke in empathy. All of us at some point or another have wished that they could be the version of themselves that exists in our heads when reality is biting and so we meet Susan who is articulate, hitting the one liners we'd all love to make (but in reality think of hours later) and confident. One aspect that’s clear from the very beginning is that there is no lack of love in the Boyle family and the importance of family shines through the whole production.

The songs featured are well known hits that are used to superb effect to set the scene and convey emotion. Each song has been carefully chosen for its powerful impact with Scarlet Ribbons, At Seventeen, The Prayer, Stuck in the Middle with You, End of the World and, of course, I Dreamed a Dream providing particularly emotive moments. James Paterson’s Scarlet Ribbons is especially devastating.

Elaine C Smith is a tour de force as Susan and she has perfected her role to the point where there are moments where you have to look twice to be certain it's not Susan standing on the stage. She has selected unique facial expressions and even just the way she holds herself captures Susan's personality. The emotional journey is such that by Act Two her impassioned pleas of "Leave me alone" as the door is hammered are truly haunting.

While telling the story of how Susan Boyle became an international sensation, I Dreamed a Dream also provides a snapshot of Scottish social history. Blackburn,West Lothian could be any small town in Scotland and it would be easy to play Scottish Stereotype Bingo but it's what makes us who we are. Certainly seeing the Scottish institution of "The Slosh" immortalised in a musical resulted in an appreciative roar from the home audience.

I Dreamed a Dream shows the impact on the real lives behind reality TV in a new way. It’s easy to become numb to the stories behind talent show auditionees and what makes this production so powerful is the raw reality of it without the voiceovers or contrived TV production. 

The show acknowledges that life isn’t easy and it’s not fair but if you’re lucky, really lucky, amazing things can happen. In this current economic climate we all need hope and I Dreamed a Dream is the most hopeful, uplifting production I have seen in a long time. Don’t miss it.

I Dreamed a Dream is at the King's Theatre until 14th October.