Review: Dream (RSC, VR online)

This short show, using motion capture of actors, animation, music, and some audience interaction, is not an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but is inspired by the forest presented within it. It was originally planned as live experience by the Royal Shakespeare Company, but has now moved to online.

There were two options to engage with the piece – for free, you could be an observer of the action; for a fee of £10, you could light the way by means of fireflies controlled by your mouse.

Dream is an experiment using the most up-to-date VR and gaming technology. Puck (EM Williams) is the guide for this exploration into the mysteries of the forest canopy, the forest floor, the hard to find dark places, and the underground, and in their journey they are aided by the four spirits mentioned by Shakespeare.

Moth (Durassie Kiangangu) perhaps has the most to do, and is the most fully realised character on the screen. Cobweb (Maggie Bain) is represented by a large and forbidding eyeball (which immediately made me think of the all-seeing eye in the 1940 film of The Thief of Baghdad).

Puck and Cobweb from Dream

Mustardseed (Loren O’Dair) and Peaseblossom (Jamie Morgan) are more subtle and register less – although I was watching on my mobile and your experience may be different on a larger screen.

This is an impressive piece which explores what can be achieved in this field. We were all perhaps first acquainted with motion capture with the character of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings film series twenty years ago, but that was not rendered live, with a performer making the movements in real-time as the VR is streamed.

At one point, Dream pulls back to show you what is going on behind the scenes, with Williams being carried and assisted in their most complex jumps and graceful movements.

The music utilised here is magical, with the visuals impressive even on the smallest screen: there’s an audience “lobby”, too, where details about the show and its cast and creatives can be explored.

What I wasn’t clear on was who the show was aimed at – those with a love of tech, Shakespeare nuts, or simply those who want to experience something different. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

Dream was available for streaming until 20 March. It was directed by Robin McNicholas from the experimental art collective Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF). The show was a collaboration between the RSC, Manchester International Festival (MIF), MLF, and the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Image credit: Paul Mumford