While watching the Scapegoat Carnivale production of Pedro Calderon de la Barca's Life is a Dream you feel almost as if you are watching musical performance. Everything about it is based on timing, rhythm and storytelling. It is all very poetic and you really feel all the history that is behind this story.
Within the cast a standout is Andreas Aspergis as Segismundo. He puts you into a trance as the wild child son of King Basilio (Leni Parker) and then seduces you during his monologues. It was a performer who had the audience in the palm of his hand with his first and last words.
Segismundo has been incarcerated since birth in a mountain cavern due to a prediction that he will, when the time comes, be a tyrannical ruler. As he gets older, seeing that every living thing around him such as the fish and birds have some sort of freedom is driving him mad. The only human companion that Segismundo has is his keeper and tutor, Clotaldo (Peter Batakliev). He yearns for more.
Suddenly he is stumbled upon by two visitors who have been thrown from their horses. He believes himself to be talking to two men, but he is only half right. The joker, Clarion (Zachary Fraser), is male, but the other, Rosaura (Gemma James Smith), is a woman disguised as a man. As no one is supposed to know about the existence of the prince (his father has declared him dead), Clotaldo has no choice but to arrest the two. But he is torn in two when he discovers that Rosaura is a girl and also possesses a sword identifying her as his long-lost daughter. Rosaura is trying to regain her honour as she has been dumped by Astolfo (Julien Casey). Astolfo has decided on setting his sights on becoming king as he is plotting to marry his cousin, Estrella (Julie Tamiko Manning).
Back against the wall the King decides to give his son a chance to prove the prediction wrong by allowing him to rule for one day. However this is under the pretext of it being all a dream. Soon enough Segismundo goes ahead and proves the stars correct by acting just as despotic as they had predicted. What is the king to do now? Who will succeed him? Everyone has several pots in the proverbial fire. And it is not going to get any less complex any time soon.
Director Alison Darcy is smart and talented enough to instil plenty of modernity in the fantasy versus reality play so that it still speaks to today's audiences. We are submitted the question of whether everything that happens is fate or do we believe the argument that our humanity is based on free will. Though this is a dense concept there are still several light moments in the play which are a welcomed break from the philosophical debate. It is an existential question which is at the heart of this play but it still brings you through the entire emotional palate as well.
This abundance of emotion is enough to test any cast and would force an overwhelmed actor to stretch too far into an over-the-top performance, but this does not happen with this group of actors. They are able to convey the emotions without going too far. It all remains believable. As a result, we are left to ponder such questions as what is love and how does it really feel to be loved, do we really exist and how do you deal with the uncertainty of life? It is a lot of fun!
Everything in the production is there to blur the lines between reality and fantasy. Even the lighting, sets and costumes are to that end. It is like a fairy tale that draws you in to the spell it casts. Though the sets are simple they still catch your eye and the costumes are very flashy as the dream aspect requires them to be. A mature production by this young and dynamic theatre group.