Oliver Dimsdale from Dear Esther Live

Interview: Oliver Dimsdale from Dear Esther Live

Brighton Dome sat down with Oliver Dimsdale, star of BBC’s He Knew He Was Right, who will be performing in Dear Esther Live on 2 Feb as The Narrator. 

How did you get involved in Dear Esther Live?

I played one of the main characters in [The Chinese Room’s] Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, so I auditioned for Dear Esther Live and got the part.

We sort of rehearsed it like a play, and then our sound technician tried to capture the sense of the reality in the voice. We recorded that, and then Dan Pinchbeck and Jess Curry got me in to do a live version of it, using the script. They liked my voice, so they got me involved.

In terms of what you do as The Narrator in Dear Esther Live: Do you have to adapt to the show being different every night?

I would love to say that a lot of it is improvised, but there are several moments that are very much set. The artistry - and the collaboration between the visual, aural and narration - comes when you are given a cue, and your decision to delay it a few beats, or leave it a few lines, before you choose to come in.

We follow the musical score and we follow cues as well from the little monitors near the stage.

The monitors have a cue for the conductor and cue for the actor. So, when I see that, I choose to delay or - depending on how I’m feeling in certain moment - go at the same time as the soprano, or come under her. But within the boundaries of that, is the possibility often to act and react.

When encountering Dear Esther, people often have quite different reactions and experiences with it. What do you think about this?

It’s the same as with a novel. You find people who become obsessed by a particular metaphor - by a particular meaning - whereas different readers go in for the jugular, and fall in love more with the sense of narrative.

People fall in love with the locale, too. People also fall in love with a particular character, and perhaps something in the work you haven’t even noticed.

Do you see Dear Esther more as a poetry performance? Or as a play? Or something else?

I make quite a lot of theatre myself, and I’m a firm believer that you should try not to get in the way too much. Your performance shouldn’t get too much in the way of the compositional arc, or the story, of the whole play.

It’s like Chekov, for instance. If you try too hard to mine something that isn’t there, you’re in danger of ruining the whole story. My role in this is to try not to put too much of myself into the words, although there are also points I cannot be disengaged inside the story.

Dear Esther is written in such a hallucinatory way. It combines fact and fiction, and reality and history. Therefore you’re never quite sure, and I’m never quite sure, exactly how to receive it.

I can only put a certain amount of what I think the narrative is into it, before crossing the border into interpretation rather than presentation. What I want to do is to present the words as they are, and leave it in the hands of the viewer, visually and aurally, to try to ascertain what on earth is going on.

With poetry, as soon as you have a GCSE or A-Level text in front of you - with a paper professing that it’s telling you exactly what it’s all about - I think it’s kind of failed. You should be able to take from art whatever the hell you want, and that’s why I think this is such a fascinating new art form that is being created with Dear Esther.

Click here to find out more about Dear Esther Live and book tickets