Dream review – the RSC's hi-tech Shakespeare only goes so far

At 7pm on Tuesday more than 7,000 people were watching. At a later performance – 2am on Wednesday – questions were coming into the post-show Q&A from as far away as Melbourne. The Royal Shakespeare Company reckons that 25% of the audiences for its online Dream are first-time attenders. Drawing on live capture and gaming technology, and inviting interaction from the audience, this visual sprint, produced with Manchester international festival, Marshmallow Laser Feast and the Philharmonia Orchestra, is a tumult of musical movement and images inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A sample of a research and development project, it is not a replacement for a full-blown play, but it suggests a new arrow for the quiver of live theatre.

The plot is scant and not always clear; the verse is reduced to scattered lines. EM Williams’s Puck guides us through a computer-generated forest, a landscape blasted by climate change, with botanically exact trees tossed by the wildest of winds. Williams appears first on stage in the flesh, then on screen, translated by her motion capture suit into an avatar: disconcertingly this most fluid of characters is a figure made of pebbles. Audiences are encouraged to click on firefly icons to light up the paths, though my attempts were more glow-worm than floodlight, with no discernible effect on the action. Nick Cave has a few sonorous lines as the (speaking not singing) voice of the wood. Fairies, whose movements generate live sound, are conjured from leaves and twigs. Titania’s attendant Cobweb is a staring eyeball, with lashes stretching out like an uprooted plant. Impressively achieved but without an emotional dimension, the impact is alarming rather than intricately disturbing. Metaphor gets into places that an avatar can’t reach.

This coming week sees another ingenious forest-driven piece of theatre, The Litten Trees. The vital production company Fuel has commissioned lighting designers up and down the country to illuminate trees near their homes, gently transforming daily landscapes.




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