It's the Donmar's specialty - transforming a difficult, old play (this one written by Calderon in 1635) into a story that leaves us pondering the plot, caring about the principles, and wanting to know more.
The central theme of Life is a Dream is very philosophical: Do we have free will, or are our actions determined by fate?
The setting of in medieval Poland isn’t simple - Kings of Poland aren’t everyday British parlance. But somehow it doesn’t really matter. We get involved with the characters because they are acted so beautifully. Segesmond is played brilliantly by Dominic West, Rosaura is played by the fabulously expressive Kate Fleetwood, and scheming, power-mad aristocrats (Rupert Evans and Sharon Small) become so much more through their parts.
Basilio, the so-called philosopher king, is in truth a cruel demagogue persuaded by his own intellect to imprison his own son to protect his country, as he is supposedly cursed by the stars. Clarion, the Shakespearean fool par excellence, amuses just as the fool must, with sly asides and wonderfully paced diction. Even the Irish accent fits somehow.
The backdrop of ominous gold for palace and black for the jail is totally convincing and atmospheric without trying to hard.
And just in case you are wondering, yes, I have booked the next season already. No question - the Donmar is on top form.