A Theatre for Dreamers

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A Theatre for Dreamers is a 2020 literary fiction novel by Polly Samson, which entered the Sunday Times Bestseller List at Number 2 upon its April 2020 release.[1] It is a fictionalized account of life on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s, featuring real-life characters who lived there at the time, including Leonard Cohen, Charmian Clift and George Johnston.

A Theatre for Dreamers
Cover artwork
AuthorPolly Samson
GenreLiterary fiction
Published2020 (2020)
Publication placeUnited Kingdom
Media typePrint (hardback)



Set in the early 1960s, A Theatre for Dreamers tells the story of 18-year-old Erica, who escapes from her controlling father in London to live among the colony of writers, painters and musicians on the small Greek island of Hydra. Erica befriends and then observes Hydra's circle of talented but troubled bohemians, including fictionalised versions of famed real-life characters Charmian Clift, George Johnston, Axel Jensen, Marianne Ihlen, Gregory Corso, Gordon Merrick and a young, as yet undiscovered, Leonard Cohen.[2]



The novel entered The Sunday Times Bestsellers List at Number 2 upon its April 2020 release. The book also attracted favourable reviews, with Alex Preston describing it in The Observer as “a blissful piece of escapism and a powerful meditation on art and sexuality”,[3] Alex Peake-Tomkinson calling it “supremely accomplished” in The Spectator[4] and Suzi Feay for The Financial Times commenting that, “Samson is an intensely sensual writer, conjuring up blue skies, the tang of wild herbs, the vivid splash of bougainvillea ... As good as a Greek holiday, and may be the closest we get this year”.[5] The novel was featured in the 2020 Books of the Year lists by the Daily Telegraph,[6] The Spectator,[7] and The Times.[8]

The novel has had editions published in the UK, USA and Canada and has been translated for publication in Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Romania and Turkey.[9]



Upon the publication of A Theatre for Dreamers, Samson wrote a piece for the Guardian's Books section about her inspirations for the novel[10] and another about the novel's Hydra setting for the Guardian's Travel section.[11] She also wrote a piece about George Johnston and Hydra for the Financial Times.[12]

The publication was also due to be accompanied by live events in April 2020 in Manchester, Birmingham and London, featuring Samson and her husband, the musician David Gilmour.[13] These events were postponed due to the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Samson and Gilmour streamed a weekly series of live “Von Trapped Family” broadcasts from a barn at their home, alongside their family. These featured readings and Q&As as well as musical performances from Gilmour.[14] The “Von Trapped Family” were also featured in a special “Lockdown Culture” episode of the BBC Two’s Front Row Late programme.[15]



The audiobook of A Theatre for Dreamers was released by WF Howes on 25 June 2020.[16] The audiobook is narrated by Polly Samson and was produced by David Gilmour, who also provided score music and used the audiobook to debut his first new single in five years, "Yes, I Have Ghosts", featuring the couple's daughter, Romany.[17] The single's title/chorus ("Yes, I have ghosts, not all of them dead.") quotes a line from Samson's book. Upon the audiobook's release, The Times newspaper featured an interview with Samson and Gilmour about the audiobook,[18] as well as a leading article praising the "innovation" of "fusing music with audiobooks" and concluding, "The Gilmour family should be congratulated for pointing the way ahead."[19]


  1. ^ "Sunday Times Bestseller List". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2020-06-19
  2. ^ "A Theatre for Dreamers - The Sunday Times bestseller". Bloomsbury. Archived from the original on 2020-12-15. Retrieved 2020-06-19. Retrieved 2020-06-19
  3. ^ "A Theatre for Dreamers by Polly Samson review – sun, sex and Leonard Cohen". The Observer. April 5, 2020. Retrieved 2020-06-19
  4. ^ "Violence and infidelity on sun-drenched Hydra: A Theatre for Dreamers, by Polly Samson, reviewed". The Spectator. April 4, 2020. Retrieved 2020-06-19
  5. ^ "A Theatre for Dreamers — ouzo, intrigue and Leonard Cohen". Financial Times. April 17, 2020. Retrieved 2020-06-19
  6. ^ "The best novels of 2020". Daily Telegraph. November 28, 2020. Retrieved 2020-12-02
  7. ^ "Books of the year, chosen by our regular reviewers". The Spectator. November 7, 2020. Retrieved 2020-12-02
  8. ^ "The 37 best books of 2020: our top reads from every genre". The Times. December 1, 2020. Retrieved 2020-12-02
  9. ^ "A Theatre for Dreamers". C&W Agency. Retrieved 2022-09-13
  10. ^ "Bohemian tragedy: Leonard Cohen and the curse of Hydra". Guardian. March 30, 2020. Retrieved 2020-06-19
  11. ^ "Hydra, the Greek island for dreamers". Guardian. March 30, 2020. Retrieved 2020-06-19
  12. ^ "How I spend it... Polly Samson on the Astypalaian knife". Financial Times. May 22, 2020. Retrieved 2020-06-19
  13. ^ "A Theatre For Dreamers: An Evening Of Words And Music with Polly Samson and David Gilmour". 5x15 Events. Retrieved 2020-06-19
  14. ^ "Watch David Gilmour cover Syd Barrett songs in lockdown". NME. May 11, 2020. Retrieved 2020-06-19
  15. ^ "Lockdown Culture with Mary Beard". BBC. May 14, 2020. Retrieved 2020-06-19
  16. ^ "A Theatre For Dreamers Audiobook". W.F.Howes Ltd. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  17. ^ "David Gilmour to Put Out First New Song in Five Years via Audiobook". Rolling Stone. 25 June 2020. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  18. ^ "Pink Floyd star David Gilmour's novel approach to new music". The Times. 25 June 2020. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  19. ^ "The Times view on Dave Gilmour's new release: Wish You Were Hear". The Times. 25 June 2020. Retrieved 30 June 2020.