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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Donmar Warehouse


  Dominic West and Kate Fleetwood/ Ph: Johan Persson

Jumping in at the deep end, director Jonathan Munby kicks off his production of Life is a Dream with a piece of pell-mell imaginary theatre. A character in elaborate 17th-century military regalia is supposedly trying to control a runaway horse. The incident, evoked by the clapping and stamping of anonymous figures in black, is a bit like Equus without the masks.
This dynamic opening scene helps lure us into a highly stylized world envisioned by Pedro Calderón de la Barca for the Spanish court in 1635. In order to get his plot going, Calderón needs the rider – a woman disguised as a man – to stumble across the remote tower where a prince of the realm has been imprisoned since the day of his birth. Seguismundo was incarcerated here by his father because of dire astrological portents that predicted he would grow into a debauched tyrant equal to the most depraved of Roman emperors.
The rider, Rosaura, is on a mission to track down the man who has robbed her of her honor. She plans to do him in with a golden blade that is inscribed with a cryptic message from her father. Of course, this being fantasy, Clotaldo, the man to whom she reveals her secret agenda, is not only Seguismundo’s jailer, but also the father she has never known – though he does not tell her this until much, much later.
Clotaldo, in turn, is embroiled in a plot that has been concocted by Seguismundo’s father, King Basilio. In order to test the validity of the prophecy, they drug him, bring him to court and treat him as a demigod. Seguismundo, kowtowed to by one and all, fulfills the direst of expectations. He attempts to rape every woman in sight – he has never seen one before – and also demands that his father be put to death for denying him his due.
Appalled by Seguismundo’s bestial behaviour, his father re-drugs him and returns him to his prison chains. Clotaldo is there to convince him that everything that has just transpired has been nothing but a dream.
How Seguismundo discovers his innate nobility and reverses the prophecy turns out to be what the second act is all about. He comes to the conclusion that even if this was a dream there are lessons to be learned. Seguismundo is not just reformed; he is – believe it or not – positively transformed.
From top to bottom the Donmar cast is superb. Dominic West (The Wire) brings a forthright intensity to his portrayal of Seguismundo. Kate Fleetwood, who was so compelling last season as Patrick Stewart’s Lady Macbeth, plays Rosaura with unwavering determination.
Even if, like me, you have long since abandoned any intention of ever trying to finish Don Quixote, this is an engrossing evening of theatre excavated from Spain’s remote and illustrious Golden Age. 


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