Life is a Dream

There’s a great, restless energy in Director Declan Donnellan’s production of Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s seventeenth century Spanish classic Life is a Dream. Actors range about the stage, often in stylised set-pieces, as an old narrative and some timeless themes are given a lively and innovative new coat of paint.

An old narrative and some timeless themes are given a lively and innovative new coat of paint

The Cheek by Jowl production follows the ill-fated Prince of Poland Segismundo, who’s had the misfortune of being shackled in a prison all his life because his Russell Grant of a father has embraced the astrological opinion that he’s going to be a savage, cruel man. It turns out if you want savagery, chaining someone up for the entirety of their life is a good start, and so it is when the prince is restored to a regal title.

After an entertaining bit of audience interaction (you’d have thought front row at the Lyceum for an EIF play would be safe territory) it doesn’t take him long to give in to some tyrannical urges. Is his fate sealed by the stars? The ensuing drama delves deep into this question, interweaving antiquity with novelty, and merging classical drama with retro song selections, slapstick humour, and pre-recorded laughter tracks.

The play brims with energetic performances, led by Segismundo, and they just about carry the dramatic momentum through the unbroken two hours performance time. The set prioritizes mobility over magnificence and that’s reflected in the work of the actors. Even though a subplot centred around Astolfo, Estrella, and Rosaura still feels a little tired despite the infusion of comic zest, there’s a satisfying dissonance between the airy conclusion – and that of the play as a whole – and the fate of the regularly fun and funny Clarin.

The lesson which the play delivers, that you should live life as if you’re dreaming so you will do the right thing, might sound like the banal sort of message contained in social media self-help memes but that doesn’t really matter. In this production it's not just the message but the manner of its presentation that stands out. Both aspects shine brilliantly in this astute production.

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Reviews by Alec Martin

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The Blurb

Award-winning international theatre company Cheek by Jowl presents a radical new version of a Spanish classic.

A prince is chained in a mountain from birth, following a prophecy that he is destined to become a tyrant. Upon release, he discovers a world completely different to the one he’s always known. Is this reality, or is it all just a dream?

Formed in 1981, Cheek by Jowl has performed in over 50 countries with works in English, French, Russian and Italian. The company returns to the International Festival after their 2016 production of Measure for Measure, with one of dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s best-known and most studied works. Life is a Dream – listed as one of the 40 greatest plays of all time – marks their first Spanish-language production, performed by an ensemble of Spanish actors.

Pedro Calderón de la Barca

Co-produced by Cheek by Jowl, Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico (CNTC Madrid) and LAZONA; in collaboration with the Barbican, London and Scène Nationale d’ALBI-Tarn, France

Declan Donnellan Director
Nick Ormerod
Josete Corral Assistant Director
Ganecha Gil Lighting Designer
Fernando Epelde Sound Designer and Composer
Amaya Galeote Movement Director
Pedro Víllora Dramaturgy Advisor
Alessio Meloni
Assistant Designer
Juan Ollero

Ernesto Arias, Prince Ezeanyim, Rebeca Matellán, Manuel Moya, Alfredo Noval, Goizalde Núñez, Irene Serrano and Jorge Uson

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