Kai Fischer/National Theatre of Scotland: Last Dream (on Earth)

This incredibly accomplished performance merges multi-layered sound effects, music and dialogue in an intensely visceral exploration of humanity being pushed to the absolute limits. Given a set of headphones each, the audience enter to atmospheric and slightly disjointed music, and see five performer-musicians in place on stage. This simple headphone device lends a sense of intrigue to the piece, with each audience member experiencing it at once individually and also as part of a wider collective. It is perhaps due to this that I expected to be immersed in a viewing experience more promenade or active in nature; however this clearly wasn’t the aim of the work. Instead, I settled in to experiencing a detailed and sonically all-encompassing exploration of two closely connected narratives: the first about Yuri Gagarin’s inaugural space flight; and the second focusing on the arduous journey of a group of refugees desperate to reach Spain via Morocco. With the brutality and pain of a long desert journey, the group’s quest is very successfully presented as being every bit as daunting as Gagarin’s space flight. Perhaps even more so, equipped as they are with only a child’s inflatable dinghy to cross the vast stretch of ocean. The merging of these two stories really appealed to me. The vulnerable child refugee Sam repeatedly reassures  himself that the huge tumultuous sea that he must cross is ‘just lots and lots of water’, yet this water seems less navigable than the moon’s Sea of Desire, and my empathy for his undertaking was absolute. On the flipside, alone in his rocket, Yuri Gagarin has a strong network of support available to him, and is constantly asked how he is feeling, whilst the refugees must, of course, fend entirely for themselves.

There is huge skill in the musicianship here: through a synthesis of voices, guitar, accordion, looped sound effects, and drums the performers create a slick sound-world that makes the body pulse in time with the story. There is a wonderful moment of tension as Yuri’s rocket eventually takes off, the crashing crescendo and rising action juxtaposed against snippets of the refugees’ tale, stranded in their tiny boat as a huge liner approaches. The piece is very successful in unearthing the humanity in these tales, providing a hook for us to invest in these characters and their respective journeys. It is perfectly made for an audience who appreciate this style of audio-based performance; the visual elements are of course limited (in this case to some basic but effective projections). As a visual thinker, this was an element that I found initially challenging, despite understanding and respecting the premise of the piece. However, the layers of sound and the climatic feel of the action did absorb me for the most part, and the production without doubt achieved its aim in exploring the limits of human ambition and endurance in a manner that has universal resonance.


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About Sarah Davies

Sarah is a Drama Lecturer (UAL Acting and Applied Drama), Freelance Writer, Facilitator and Improviser who has written for Total Theatre Magazine since 2011. Recent work includes play commissions from Theatre Centre, Menagerie Theatre and Now Press Play, and facilitation/directing for The Marlowe Theatre, All The World's a Stage and Improv Gym. Her recent improv performances include Mount Olymprov (Greece) with Big Bang Improv Boston, Amsterdam Improv Marathon,and Improfest (London).