Do you know a place where the wild thyme blows? You do now.
“Dream,” an interactive experience by the Royal Shakespeare Company that runs through Saturday and lasts about as long as a nap, transports thousands of viewers to a Sylvan Grove, then to a rehearsal room in Portsmouth, England for live questions and answers. Tickets are free, although those who prefer a slightly interactive experience can purchase seats for £ 10 and appear on-screen as fireflies.
Inspired by Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – in the wisest, gossamer way imaginable – “Dream” means a big leap forward for theater technology and a short run for theater itself.
Another “dream” was slated to open in Stratford-upon-Avon about a year ago, as a showcase for Audience of the Future, a consortium of institutions and technical innovators that gathered in 2019 with the task of exploring new ways to Create and deliver theater from afar. (Theater on your phone? You saw it first.) The “Dream” of 2020 would have played to both a live audience and a distant audience, integrating actors, projections, and live motion capture into one green whole.
But personal audiences are rare these days, and this remote “dream,” as beautiful as it is – and it’s beautiful, tremendously beautiful – feels thinner, less a forest of imagination than a little forest of some really lovingly rendered ones Trees. It begins with Puck (EM Williams), the happy wanderer of the night, who here introduces himself as a collection of pebbles in the approximate shape of a human body. Why puck – nimble, brisk, and girdle – make the earth in the time it takes most of us to load the dishwasher – as a pile of stones? No idea. Looks good.
On his journey through the forest, Puck encounters Shakespeare’s other fairies such as Motte (a cluster of moths), Peaseblossom (sticks and flowers), and Cobweb (an eyeball in a squirrel’s drey). Apparently, Puck also hit mustard seeds (more sticks?). I missed it. And singer Nick Cave did some voice acting! I missed that too.
“Dream”, performed live, is exquisite, denatured and almost completely empty. It’s not exactly theater, and it’s not exactly film, although it could qualify as a high-profile short film “Avatar”. On the tracks it resembles a meditative video game, but it isn’t, mainly because the interactive elements (clicking and dragging fireflies through the landscape) are completely irrelevant.
When I saw it, I felt inexplicably annoyed, like a toddler who has been offered a variety of perfect snacks but doesn’t want any. Because maybe the toddler really wants an actual play to be safely seen in an actual theater with an actual audience. And that’s just not available right now.
So I don’t really know what to say about “dream”. Because it is an obviously fruitful and seemingly happy collaboration between high profile actors, directors, designers, composers and technicians, many of whom have taken some physical risk. (Among them are Robin McNicholas, who is credited with directing and developing the narrative, Pippa Hill, who is credited with creating the script and narration, and Esa-Pekka Salonen, the production’s music director and co-composer.) It also signals real advancement in the use of live motion capture (something the Royal Shakespeare Company has already experimented with) and offers a tantalizing glimpse of how this technology can be used when real personal theater returns.
But that’s not really a theater. Or even improper theater. It’s a nifty demonstration of an emerging technology. Shakespeare is the pretext, not the point. The pentameter pushed into random virtual mouths helps us understand the software architecture better – which is great if you like software and less good if you like the language itself or the plot or characters of the original game or sharp Insights into our big, stupid, desiring hearts. This “dream” is beautiful. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all wake up now?
Until March 20th; dream.online