Touring – reviewed at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Rambert’s Life is a Dream is a peculiar, poetic piece that suffers from pulling in too many directions at once.
Choreographer Kim Brandstrup’s new work is based on Calderón’s 1635 drama of the same name. Lack of familiarity with 17th-century Spanish drama will mean that audience members will need to consult the programme notes to be aware of the story of an imprisoned prince who goes on a rampage when freed and is persuaded when re-imprisoned that everything that happened was a dream.
The trouble is that even this knowledge does not really help to interpret what is happening. Rambert is obviously keen enough (or worried enough) that everyone should know there is a narrative that even those who do not stump up for a programme are given a sheet with a synopsis.
Unfortunately, knowing the story is reinterpreted as a director dreaming of his cast in a deserted rehearsal room is neither terribly helpful nor is the conceit particularly clever or original.
In truth, it is better to ignore any idea of narrative and just experience the production as something elusive and unknowable. When it is most unfathomable, with fluid dreamlike lines, it is most effective. When it comes nearer to a coherent expression of recognisably everyday gestures, it is like being snapped back into wakefulness and is much less satisfactory.
The piece starts almost imperceptibly with Witold Lutosławski’s music creeping up unnoticed, mirroring the sudden realisation that the sepulchral set is already hiding several performers. The design – by film-makers The Quay Brothers – is suitably filmic. Making clever use of projection, it is dominated by dark green and black; noirish in every sense.
Jean Kalman, meanwhile, does not light the stage so much as swathe it in darkness, with the performers’ feet often invisible. At times, any light that is in evidence is only used to throw spooky shadows.
Miguel Altunaga. Pic Johan Persson
This is reflected by the eerily laminar nature of Lutosławski’s music, with folkily romantic layers of sound chafing against each other, now and again propelled by insistent percussion. The starkly beautiful score is excellently played live under conductor and orchestrator Christopher Austin, with Charles Mutter an outstanding violin soloist.
All of this has a woozily dreamlike effect that can be thoroughly engrossing. Liam Francis and Miguel Altunaga, in twin exponents of the directors’ role, are beautifully expressive; Nancy Nerantzi’s graceful movements also have genuine beauty.
strangely compelling images
The dancing throughout is of an extremely high standard, but there is a definite sense of diminishing returns. The heart sinks to see that the second act is staged in a stripped-back theatre set that is such a cliché now and needs to be used with real imagination. Instead, the second half is too much of a repeat of the first rather than an expansion of it.
The desire to impose a coherent narrative is constantly undermining the effect of a series of strangely compelling images – the apparently straitjacketed dancers, the seemingly fascinating tailor’s dummy on wheels – that would have more impact if left to speak for themselves.
Running time 1 hour 40 minutes including one interval
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Thursday 22 – Saturday 24 November 2018
Daily at 7.30 pm.
Information and tickets: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/rambert
Rambert’ Life is a Dream on tour 2018/19:
Thu 22 – Sat 24 Nov 2018
0131 529 6000
Tue 27 – Wed 28 Nov 2018
Thu 14 – Sat 16 Feb 2019
0844 871 7647
Thu 21 – Fri 22 Feb 2019
Thu 28 Feb – Sat 2 Mar 2019
01162 423 595
Liam Francis. Pic Johan Persson