While categorised in the Fringe programme under theatre, this work – created and directed by Kai Fischer with contributions from its cast – is certainly not a play, at least in the conventional sense. Rather, it’s a soundscape, an aural collage performed live by two musicians and three actors sat in a row across the stage. Most of the show – percussion notwithstanding – is only accessible through headphones; certainly its most subtle nuances (as breaths merge into the sound of waves, for example) would be otherwise lost. This places the audience in an unusual situation; listening together, and yet listening alone, isolated.
It is the silence – during which the performers simply stare, frozen, out to the audience – which underscores the need for us all to be in the same room, together, in order for it to make any sense.
[Line change, does this work for you?] The creation of this feeling of isolation appears deliberate as Last Dream (On Earth) focuses on people who are alone and preparing for an incredibly dangerous journey in the hope of reaching some wonderful new future. Fischer combines reportage of the experiences of African migrants attempting to cross the 20 miles of sea to Spain, with the communications between the head of the USSR’s space programme, Sergei Korolev, and the man who became the first ever human to see our planet from space, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
It is by no means an obvious fusion, which is presumably why Fischer focuses on the sharp end of life in extremis, as Gagarin is thrust into orbit and the migrants attempt to cross the busiest shipping route in the world overnight in a small toy dinghy. Nevertheless, the connection feels a tad forced. Gagarin was a military pilot serving the Motherland (during arguably the greatest proxy war in human history) while the migrants, given false names to protect their identities, are desperately fleeing poverty, oppression, and violence. The only thing they all seem to share is a belief that, when facing the great unknown, doing something is better than doing nothing.
Actors Michelle Cornelius, Kimisha Lewis, and Edward Nkom give voice to the participants alongside musicians Tyler Collins and Gameli Tordzro, who provide a remarkable range of sounds through guitar, percussion, and voice – all choreographed and augmented by sound designer Matt Padden. And yet, the most memorable point is an almost painful silence, representative of a five minute period when all communications between mission control and Gagarin were lost – when, despite being among an audience of more than a hundred people, we feel terribly alone, cocooned in our headphones with only the sound of our own breathing in our ears.
This is also really the only moment in the performance when Fischer offers a genuine reason why this needs to be a work that’s performed live, rather than broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Despite some fairly effective back-projection and mood lighting on the performers, it is the silence – during which the performers simply stare, frozen, out to the audience – which underscores the need for us all to be in the same room, together, in order for it to make any sense.