A play within a dance performance and all wrapped up in a dream makes for a thrilling exploration of the workings of a tired mind, and one consumed by its own machinations. It does, however, make for quite a complicated piece in this ambitious project brought to the stage by Kim Brandstrup and Rambert.

The creation was inspired by Spanish playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s play of the same name, which follows a Polish Prince who has been held prisoner for many years. On release, the Prince wreaks havoc across his city and has to be taken prisoner, under sedation, once more. When the Prince wakes, he believes it has all been a dream, and when he is released for a second time approaches his new life with caution as if, like a dream, it could all disappear at any time.

Transferring this to the stage as a piece of contemporary dance poses obvious challenges for choreographer Brandstrup, most notably in creating a coherent storyline that can be readily understood by the audience. Although the dancing is beautiful, with a lightness of touch and grace befitting of the stellar reputation Rambert holds, it is not enough to overcome the aforementioned challenge.

What goes a long way to helping is the bare bones yet intense and illusory set, which achieves the effect of being first imprisoned in a cell or hospital room, and then backstage in the theatre as the director. The lighting sets an ethereal and out-of-this-world feel, as light pans around the space revealing a myriad of frozen characters just waiting to be unleashed into the dream world of the director, and then later replicating the stage spotlight which might fall on one of the director’s fictional characters and yet, in this instance, thrusts him to the forefront of Act 2.

On the surface this is a beautiful piece of creativity showcasing contemporary dance at its finest, but it is hard work. Far beyond a brief synopsis, the audience could do with a full set of crib notes to keep a track of what is happening. Are we in a dream? Whose dream? Is this real life now? Is that the prince or the director? Who is the Prince anyway?

Life is a Dream is captivating, but make sure you read all the notes before you see it.