Robert Tanitch reviews Life is a Dream at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London EC1
Danish choreographer Kim Brandstrup’s dance drama is based on a play by Pedro Calderon de La Barca, one of the great writers of Spain’s Golden Age and a name to put alongside Lope de Vega.
Life is a Dream, written circa 1635, is generally considered to be Calderon’s masterpiece. Rarely performed in the UK, I have seen it only once.
The King of Poland, a superstitious man, believes the omens which say that his son and heir will grow up to be a brutal tyrant. So he locks him up in a tower where he is kept in chains and solitary confinement.
The King, not fully appreciating the depth of his son’s hatred for him and his desire for revenge, releases him. He behaves in exactly the way as was foretold, murdering a servant and attempting to rape a lady.
The son is locked up again and led to believe that all that happened on his release was but a dream. He is bewildered. Is life a dream and, if it is, how do we know if we are awake or asleep?
Brandstrup’s production explores the conflicting worlds of dreams and reality; but the line between reality and fantasy is so blurred that the whole staging is uncanny, strange, always just out of reach, never quite graspable, dream-like in fact. I suspect many audiences won’t know what is going on but will still be fascinated.
Brandstrup, taking his inspiration from Jarry Grotowski and Tadeusz Kantor and the physicality of their productions, sets the action in a derelict rehearsal room. The director is asleep, dreaming about the play, the rehearsal and working with three parallel casts.
In the second half he enters the story himself and there is a remarkable duet for Liam Francis and Miguel Altunega when they mirror each other. An exciting ensemble immediately follows.
The UK tour of Life is a Dream is from September 2018 to February 2019 and will visit Norwich, Llandudno, Salford, Edinburgh, Plymouth, Glasgow, Inverness and Leicester.