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A Theatre for Dreamers Reviews

A Theatre for Dreamers by Polly Samson

A Theatre for Dreamer

An Observer Fiction Highlight 2020

Polly Samson

4.14 out of 5

8 reviews

Imprint: Bloomsbury Circus
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publication date: 2 Apr 2020
ISBN: 9781526600554
  • The GuardianBook of the Day
4 stars out of 5
Elizabeth Lowry
16 May 2020

"Samson is magnificently in control of her subject"

The Jimmys and Georges and Leonards are far better than Erica’s father at concealing how ruthlessly they exploit their women, but the latter end up just as confined and broken as Erica’s mother. Hydra itself is an illusion, its heady mix of male freeloaders, free-flowing retsina and freer love concealing a reality of unfulfilled female ambition, sexual betrayal, poverty and alcoholism. Samson captures both the dream and the disappointment in a frictionless prose that slips down easily. Sometimes she herself seems to fall for the myth she’s setting out to expose: there are strumming bouzouki players and grumpy donkeys and scented jasmine around every sun-baked corner; two nubile girls look up “like startled does”, while Charmian has eyes of “burning absinthe”.


4 stars out of 5
Jane Shilling
15 Apr 2021

"Samson’s novel is sharply observant of the personal price paid by the island’s female muses"

In 1960 the heroine of Polly Samson’s fifth novel, 18-year-old Erica, arrives on Hydra with her handsome boyfriend Jimmy, a would-be poet...

But amid luscious descriptions of Hydra’s sun-drenched streets, Samson’s novel is sharply observant of the personal price paid by the island’s female muses, so ‘beautifully trained in the arts that facilitate good writing’.

4 stars out of 5
25 Jun 2020

"A Theatre for Dreamers is a thoroughly enjoyable drama of hedonism, enchantment and emotional beastliness"

Aside from these amusements, the novel has much to say about the dawn of an era when women’s “liberation” largely involved a transfer from one form of patriarchy to another. “We were innocent children”, Marianne reflects of that summer, when she meets up with Erica several years later. But, as Cohen sang of those early days, they were only “almost young”. And some were more innocent than others.

4 stars out of 5
Helen Cullen
15 May 2020

"A fresh look at the halcyon days of 1960s Hydra"

What A Theatre for Dreamers illuminates so poignantly is that 60 years later, a lot has been done, but there is still so much more to do before both men and women can make that distinction between love and service, and have equal access to a perfect universe in which they can create.


4 stars out of 5
Robbie Millen
22 Apr 2020

"(an) enjoyable novel, which makes vivid an interesting moment and place"

If you are going to have a sentimental education, have it on Hydra. Samson is particularly good at evoking the sun-burnished charms of the place, its sea-spangled silver, mauve and tangerine as the sun sets. There are plenty of mouth-watering descriptions of food — olives stuffed with anchovies, fried squid — certainly enough to make it work as an upmarket beach read... By the end of this enjoyable novel, which makes vivid an interesting moment and place, you discover people have paid a price — a heavy one — for that freedom in the sun.

4 stars out of 5
Suzi Feay
17 Apr 2020

"Polly Samson’s reimagining of the lives of the 1960s bohemian set is as a good as a Greek holiday"

With a cast of characters that spend much of the time engaged in inherently undramatic occupations, there’s not much plot beyond the nightly dissection of amours and intrigues over ouzo and brandy. It’s tricky to insert a fictional character in a narrative filled with real people, but Erica, so ardent yet so unformed, is an appealing presence, an eavesdropper without being creepy and an imparter of information without being a gossip. A Theatre for Dreamers is almost as good as a Greek holiday, and may be the closest we get this year.

5 stars out of 5
Alex Preston
5 Apr 2020

"A Theatre for Dreamers is at once a blissful piece of escapism and a powerful meditation on art and sexuality"

With such a vivid, atmospheric setup, the book almost writes itself, but Samson has done something more than just wallow in the loveliness of it all. This novel will be a surefire summer hit, but it has a darkness and complexity that reward careful reading. Cohen and Marianne operate at tangents to the central story of the novel, which is narrated by the likable ingenue Erica, a novitiate novelist in her late teens whose mother’s dying wish was for her daughter to go off on an adventure. 

4 stars out of 5

" Polly Samson rises beautifully to the challenge in her supremely accomplished A Theatre for Dreamers"

There are echoes of Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife in what is revealed about Clift’s and Johnston’s relationship, and one is also reminded of how the domestic responsibilities fell in Elizabeth Jane Howard’s marriage to Kingsley Amis, although both were successful novelists. Hydra in 1960 was a precarious environment, particularly for women, but it’s a testament to Samson’s transportive prose that you may find it very hard to leave it behind.