DEAR ESTHER | London, Barbican

The Barbican have presented two video game evenings in the last two weeks. The first being Symphonic Fantasies which was all about the music, the second being Dear Esther which was about far, far more.

At night you can see the lights sometimes from a passing tanker or trawler. From up on the cliffs they are mundane, but down here they fugue into ambiguity. For instance, I cannot readily tell if they belong above or below the waves. The distinction now seems mundane; why not everything and all at once! There’s nothing better to do here than indulge in contradictions, whilst waiting for the fabric of life to unravel.

The above passage is from the audio trigger script of a video game devised by Dan Pinchbeck in 2007, as part of a project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council to explore experimental game play and storytelling. Lost? You’re not even on the island. What island? The gorgeous Hebridean wilderness projected onto the screen above Milton Court’s stage. What stage? The one home to a chamber ensemble, conductor, game-player and narrator who are bringing the sound-world of Dear Esther to life. There’s a lot to take in, and the aspects can ‘fugue into ambiguity’ in the most arresting of sensory immersions.

With ‘loading screens’ that almost creates acts or movements within the performance, the ground-breaking video game playthrough does nod towards other more conventional artforms. Beyond that, it is possible to confidently describe this production as a unique and brilliant development in the possibilities of the concert hall and the pioneering creativity of Dan Pinchbeck (developer) and Jessica Curry (composer). Neither creator seems inhibited or even aware of the conventions of their chosen fields and the result is something enveloping, emotional and brilliant.

Curious? Visit the Dear Esther website here.

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