Life is a Dream is a classical Spanish play written by 16th-century writer Pedro Calderon de La Barca. This production brings to life this powerful play with moving acting, a simple but effective design, and dramatic lighting. All of these elements come together to form an outstanding piece of drama.

Credit: Javier Nadal

Life is a Dream is coproduced by Cheek by Jowl, Compania National de Teatro Classico and Lazona as part of a European tour. Compania National de Teatro Classico focuses on bringing the pre-20th century to modern audiences, particularly focusing on the Golden Age of Spain – referring to the period in the 16th to 18th century when the Habsburg were one of the most dominant political superpowers.

The production is performed in Spanish with subtitles above the stage. I did not find this disruptive to the performance, and the whole show was easy to follow. The translated text has some powerful thoughts and ideas about the human condition that will resonate and move audience members. Although this play was written in the 16th century, the power struggles between the characters evolve fascinatingly and intriguingly. The structured scripted segments of the story are contrasted with abstract dream sequences which add to the overall pace of the play. 

Nick Ormerod’s designs are powerful. Most of the action takes place in front of a tabard of doors; however, the rest of the vast space is utilised and Ganecha Gil’s lighting design transforms this space into part of the set. The images of war throughout the play are incredibly moving and well thought out. The play uses costumes from different periods of the 20th and 21st centuries to powerfully show how war is still a problem today.

Credit: Javier Nadal

Alfredo Noval gives a dynamic performance as Segismumdo and develops the character gradually throughout the show. Rebecca Matellan also stands out as Rosaura taking every moment to connect over key moments.

Life is a Dream is a powerful, thought-provoking play brought to life by inspirational acting. The creative elements come together to support a well-directed and moving piece of theatre. Life is a Dream will appeal to audiences who enjoy classical theatre and audiences that appreciate a well-written, thoughtful piece of theatre. 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Life is a Dream (La vida es sueño) by Cheek by Jowl is on at the Barbican until the 16th April 2023 – tickets and info here.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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