Delve Deeper: Dear Esther Live
5 Jan 2018
The acclaimed digital experience comes to Brighton Dome on 2 Feb with a moving story of love, loss and redemption.
“I’ve begun my voyage in a paper boat without a bottom; I will fly to the moon in it. I have been folded along a crease in time, a weakness in the sheet of life. Now, you’ve settled on the opposite side of the paper to me; I can see your traces in the ink that soaks through the fibre, the pulped vegetation. When we become waterlogged, and the cage disintegrates, we will intermingle. When this paper aeroplane leaves the cliff edge, and carves parallel vapour trails in the dark, we will come together.” (Taken from Dear Esther)
When a story affects you, it’s more than just the sum of its parts. It doesn’t become a memory, but a niggling sensation that compels you to turn it around again and again in your mind. Sometimes these stories are unsettling, sometimes they’re beautiful, and sometimes they give you a refreshed perspective on the world you inhabit.
At its centre, Dear Esther is a story of love, loss and redemption – but told in a way you have never experienced before.
The performance immerses you in the mysterious mind of a lone narrator as he traverses a bleak and desolate Scottish island. Projected cinematically on the big screen, the landscape we explore is entirely digital, though it is more than just a backdrop; its remote, detached environment gives shape and texture to the live narrator’s words, and becomes a central character in its own right.
When Dear Esther was first released by Brighton-based video game studio The Chinese Room (2012), it was hailed as a landmark achievement, attracting curiosity and acclaim from audiences of all ages. Driven by story and immersion, it blurred the lines between interactive gaming, storytelling and digital artistry, refusing to be easily categorised by those who encountered it. On release, it intensified a debate about the future of digital expression, and has since inspired a new generation of creators to tell stories in surprising and innovative ways.
“The gap between our expectations for Esther, and what it’s become, couldn’t have been further apart,” says Dan Pinchbeck, one of Dear Esther’s creators. “We would never in a million years have thought it’d have this kind of cultural impact, though. And that’s amazing. We made something with a lot of love in it, without expecting much. And to see it now held up, and referenced endlessly, it’s extraordinary.”
In adapting the work into a live performance, a piano quintet and soprano are brought onto the stage to perform its celebrated soundtrack, which was scored by BAFTA-winning and Brighton-based composer Jessica Curry (who currently hosts Classic FM’s High Score). Blending with the visual and narrative experience, the live music leads audiences carefully into Dear Esther’s unique emotional landscape, giving the piece an intensity of feeling which is difficult not to be moved or affected by.
When seeing Dear Esther, it doesn’t matter if you’re a lover of stories, an enthusiast of technology, or somebody who is curious about cutting-edge performance - what matters is how you feel when you leave the building, and whether the work stays with you after it’s finished.
Is Dear Esther a show, a piece of art, or a glimpse into the future? It’s up to you to decide.