Thursday, 19 November 2009

Life is a Dream at Storeroom ***

 Adapted from Pedro Calderon de la Barca
 Storeroom, November 19 to  29, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Expect violence, chaos and filth in Daniel Schlusser’s version of Calderon’s 17th century Spanish play, Life is a Dream.  In this interpretation, life is a nightmare. If you want a classical production you will not get it here. Schlusser uses some of Calderon’s language, translated by Beatrix Christian, but he deconstructs the original play until it is almost unrecognisable.

His production interweaves scenes involving the actors as themselves, with speeches from Calderon’s play that is set in the royal court of Poland. The power struggles, brutal acts of vengeance and unprovoked violence of Calderon’s characters are echoed in the actors’ unpredictable interactions, status games, imaginative play, story-telling and verbal and physical abuse.

It is a potentially compelling mix. The parallels in the relationships between the actors themselves and their characters create another theatrical layer. Of course, the intention is to deconstruct and create a new piece of theatre but this device does not always illuminate the themes and characters, and causes the narrative to lose clarity.

The stage is a dangerous place in this production. The actors’ violence is very close to the audience and feels very real. They torment each other and it is uncomfortable for us, as if we are witnessing the persecution and abuse first-hand, and are unable to take action to stop it. The actors crawl and fight in what looks like a filthy squat (design by Marg Horwell) scattered with the detritus of years of unwholesome living.

The deconstructed form almost entirely obscures the interesting complexities of the original plot and its characters. There is also a conflict between the two styles of language: the contemporary-casual versus the classical-poetic. About half way through the show, Calderon’s characters start to take over from the workshop experimentation of the actors.

The original mythical story goes: King Basilio (Andrew Dunn) imprisoned his baby son, Segismundo (Johnny Carr), because his horoscope predicted that he would bring dishonour on Poland.  Years later, Basilio releases his son and convinces him that it was all a dream. Segismundo falls in love with his cousin, Estrella (Sophie Mathisen) but his years of incarceration made him vengeful and he attacks the king.

There is certainly something gripping in this production. However, it feels busy and sometimes lacks cohesion of all its disparate elements.

By Kate Herbert

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