Writer: Pedro Calderón
Translator: Jo Clifford
Director: Wils Wilson
No, you’re not dreaming. The Royal Lyceum is once more adorned with flickering lamp lights and opened stage doors. Once again, she welcomes residents of Scotland into her embrace, though with a minor stage-lift for this production. And you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was all in Jo Clifford’s dreamscape, with the vision of Life is a Dream taking a minor delay in arrival. But here it is. This cataclysmic interweaving of calamity, comedy, philosophy, and revenge is the perfect reintroduction for many. But again – you’re not dreaming. Right?
Pedro Calderón masterpiece strays from the traditional structure – merely keeping the three-act narrative out of formality. A world of self-fulfilling prophecy, Life is a Dream finds the young Price Segismundo stripped of his honour and placed within a tower. All due to his mother, the Queen’s warning that he would become a tyrant. Upon his release, an exhausting maelstrom of avarice and revenge overtake him, but convinced his day of freedom was all a dream – a frightening lustre to ‘do good’ even while dreaming engulfs him.
A contemporary dream: the role of an actor, a storyteller, a profession that in recent times has grown in difficulty to blend with viability – the past year, more so than ever, has tested the capabilities and dedication of creatives – who have all found themselves awakening every morning from a vision, unsure of just how the dawn will greet their industry. And despite enough bureaucratic red tape to lynch freedom of expressional movement, artistic director David Grieg and the Lyceum team have strived to change and adapt, now more than ever.
Lyceum Associate Artist Wils Wilson strips back the theatre, opening it up to the elements and gaze of the audience. It makes for intensity – but it opens wounds. Elements that needed to be rawer, more chaotic seem subdued. Or miscommunications to the audience with sudden modern technology (selfies need removing from gimmick usage) glint in the darkness as follies. But where the tenacity of direction lays within performance, a myriad of shimmering talent from Dyfan Dwyfor and Kelsey Griffin. Vocally castrated, the muzzle restricts Segismundo’s deceptive talents of conversational musings; existential and twisted. Grunting, primal and visceral – Lorn Macdonald’s physicality adapts to Clifford’s adaptation with ease, as a Prince who spent his childhood imprisoned by the queen, his mother, for fear of a prophecy that he will divide the nation and grow to become a beast.
Under the intimate guidance and movement direction from Janice Parker, the bestial physicality may blend the hind legs of a dog with the whimpering charges of a boar – there’s still a disturbingly corporeal and human element to Macdonald’s movements. A dash of insanity and bloodthirst recognisable in a man hungry for revenge. Infusions of Macdonald’s voice with the gnarling squeals of a pig, Calum Patterson’s sound design draws the score of the production alongside Nerea Bello’s vocal into the characters actions – most of the expositional storytelling communicated in verse or comedic breaks.
The false bound promise merges into the physical realms of staging, calling on ancient theatrical structures – the proscenium, rotten and crumbling, reinforcing the deception of the production. It makes for a battlefield of sorts, one in which Anna Russel-Martin hungers for a taste of revenge, garbed in the fineries of a lady, armed with the malice of a man.
Bookended between the construction of illusionary rarity to a shattering remnant of the fragility of theatre, Life is a Dream could all be summed within a blink of an eye: chartering the unexpectant waters of an industry forever changed in an era of plenty. Life is a Dream plays a bitter swan-song of theatre. But not one of the industries demise, but of its rebirth into a new era – one where we solemnly dance to its calls, unsure of when the light may be snuffed.
Runs until 20 November 2021 | Image: Ryan Buchanan