Deconstructing the Dream at Bloomsbury Theatre
Deconstructing the Dream is the sixth entry in the culture department of University College London’s Performance Lab, a series of shows, lectures and experiments which seek to produce a hybrid of science and performance. In this entry of the series, the audience is treated to a strongly performed (though abridged) production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Throughout the performance, the UCL Science Team led by Professor Antonia Hamilton use new brain imaging technologies to measure the actors’ and audiences brain activity. The result? Fascinating insights into the mind, mixed with a competent rendition of one of Shakespeare’s finest comedies.
As part of the production, Hamilton explains the concept behind the experiment and presents the data collected during rehearsal. Unlike traditional brain scanners which only measure activity in isolated tubes, these new devices allow scientists to trace how brain activity adapts during various forms of social interaction and play. While results are inconclusive at this stage, some of the findings are astonishing and suggestive – such as the fact that different actions in the same context seem to trigger the same brain activity despite different movements. Once all data has been collected from a range of people the results will be evaluated and shared live.
While the play itself is extremely shortened – there’s only so much theatre you can fit in among all the experiments and lectures – what’s left is lovingly performed by a cast of competent actors in a minimalist production by Kelly Hunter using the Hunter Heartbeat Method, a series of sensory games she developed for people with autism to help them make themselves understood and improve their communication. She, too, explains the techniques she has developed over the years and shows footage from some of the important work she has been conducting with people with various degrees of autism.
The overall impression, needless to say, is captivating. These new developments in neuroscience can only suggest the range of possibilities which may just be around the corner, such as measuring the brain activities of people with autism during social interaction. This may not be the most important work in traditional theatre, but it is certainly one of the most scientifically important ones, presented beautifully and with a tremendous amount of passion.
Photo: Belinda Lawley
Deconstructing the Dream is at Bloomsbury Theatre from 15th until 16th May 2019 as part of the Performance Lab season. For further information and events visit the theatre’s website here.