To dream or not to dream? For the residents of Lhaytar, the only remaining city on an otherwise flooded Earth, the answer is definitively the latter. Not that they have much of a choice on the matter – the government has banned dreaming along with all other acts of personal creativity.
It is clear that earfilms are completely unique experiences; like a dream itself, they remain absolutely within that moment: when the blindfolds come off, the images slip away, ethereal memories melting into the night.
Jack Richards doesn’t fit the narrative though. He dreams of a golden moth, a brown twisted structure and of other 'Realms' where he no longer dreams but seems to be awake. He finds others similar to him and together they choose to sleep, to dream, to dream perchance to revolt.
For us in the audience the answer is definitively the former. Not that we have much of a choice on the matter – on each seat is a blindfold and around the auditorium are twenty-three speakers.
We experience Jack’s story in complete darkness but are engulfed by sounds, three-dimensional aural stimuli that transport us to Lhaytar’s dystopian streets as well as the layers of dreams that Jack falls through every night. It is a singularly personal experience that necessarily changes with every audience member’s imagination.
In the post-show discussion, it becomes clear that some see the story play out as a colour film; some as an animation; some in black and white; some as a series of still images; some as a kinaesthetic experience. Subjectivity, like no other show. Steve Fanagan’s sound design is perfect and Chris Timpson’s spatialisation ensures that no one is left out; everyone sleeps, dreams and imagines beautifully unique things.
For writer and director Daniel Marcus Clark, the answer is unclear. He sits on a stage throughout (we assume) and narrates the action. His voice is smooth and radio-worthy like no other. This is his story and he tells it like a master. He lulls us into accepting his world, even when his writing falls into a plot hole.
The notion of 'writing' here though is completely at odds with the usual definition. The narration is sparse and sound fills the gaps: bubbles, scrapes, clanks, bleeps, radio waves, sound waves, water waves, thud bang scratch squeak siren hiss voice breath run shout breathe dream dream dream…
To dream or not to dream?
Have I already asked that? Or was that someone else? Everything recurs; we question our consciousness; do we sleep? Perhaps we dream. Perhaps. The 2015 Fringe comparison here is Fuel’s Fiction, which takes place in pitch-blackness, its story told via headphones and superficially personal narration. Whereas that show and it its predecessor Ring rely too much on the basic binaural concept and quickly boring quiet-quiet-BANG soundscapes, To Sleep To Dream invests us in a narrative and invites us into its world. Yet, because we are not constrained by headphones, we share an experience with those around us, our ears breathe together. Our perceptions change, together.
It is clear that earfilms are completely unique experiences, unlike anything you can hear or, indeed, see. And, like a dream itself, they remain absolutely within that moment: when the blindfolds come off, the images slip away, ethereal memories melting into the night.