Rambert: Life is a Dream – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Choreography: Kim Brandstrup

Music: Witold Lutoslawksi

Review: Dominic Corr

Control, particularly to any auteur is their entire being. Where our vision cannot, will not and most likely should not collide with our realities. Rambert conveys Life is a Dreamas a narrative work, though in truth it is more akin to pure movement than theatre. An adaption of the 1635 play by Pedro Calderon it examines freedom, just for one day in the life of an incarcerated man. Though that would be too easy…

Instead, what Rambert offer is a variation as a theatre director dreams of his own staged version of Life is a Dream. It can be difficult to follow, though it pays off for those who do. The director, played by two dancers sees himself conduct, direct and eventually become involved with the performance.

Duality is ever-present, not simply through our central character performed by two leads, but all around the construct of the production. The engorged shadows, slathering themselves to the walls of the set – copying their masters. The two acts themselves, almost divided between mediums – the first, cinematic in design. It’s intense use of projections, aesthetic yet utter illusionary. The basis of all we witness is effervescent where nothing is within a tangible grasp. The second act returns many to familiar ground in the theatre, its stone walls gone, replaced by the warm wood of a striked stage.

Let’s be blunt, rarely do theatre and film mix well, lucrative musical adaptations aside. The two mediums, though similar, have key differences which mean their authors make weaker productions when crossing boundaries. When it works though – it’s something remarkable. Just look at Kenneth Branagh, Ingmar Bergman and Phyllida Llyod. The Quay Brothers (Stephen and Timothy) are no different, bringing their cinematic styling to the stage. The depth of their animations, stunning creations have adapted to stage. Their influence is haunting, cinematic dream portions with overbearing walls, and the sense that anything can happen and yet – you’re trapped. Set design too, enormous spotlights bring into focus the intense scrutiny of ‘reality’. Most suggesting is the doorway, illuminated by some unseen beacon which however hard they may try, seems to reject the performer’s advancement. Something crippling awaiting in the light.

Through costume design, these themes are continued. Holly Waddington wishing to capture the motif of the Quay’s work through sleek pieces, a velvety almost shimmering film over much of the performers. It goes beyond pure aesthetic however as some pieces, has their performers hands bound within the sleeves. Furthering the feel of an asylum. To feel would be the undoing of the dream, the sense of touch is what liberates us.

Sharp striking movements, perfectly synchronized to Lutoslawski’s score are a testament to both the orchestra and Kim Brandstrup’s choreography. With but a glance, the movement on stage seems erratic, almost chaotic but like a dream, pay attention and it has married itself to the score perfectly. Especially evident in Act two as our directors’ frantic scrabbling scatter his performers, their intense strikes and lurching arranged sublimely.

Our continued clawing at the vapours of fantasies, completeness and freedom all seem to rely more on our reality than anything. As a piece of movement, Rambert: Life is a Dream is narratively complex, almost too much for a general audience. As a dawning realization of who this director is, what roles they have to play they become more aloof. Those willing to undertake the journey will need to pay attention, and it is understandable (regrettable) for those who don’t. What is undeniable though, is the intense representation of stage, cinema and movement.

Runs until November 24 2018 | Image: Johan Persson

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Intense and compelling

The Reviews Hub - Scotland

The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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