Review: Dear Esther Live Brings The Magic of Gaming to The Town Hall Symphony Hall | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Dear Esther Live Brings The Magic of Gaming to The Town Hall Symphony Hall

Gaming editor Jack Cooper was enchanted by the collision of gaming and theatre in Dear Esther Live

Dear Esther Live is a phenomenally unique experience, one unlike anything I have witnessed before. Adapted from the 2012 video game, Dear Esther, Dear Esther Live is a complete playthrough of the game accompanied by a live orchestra (who are the same orchestra that recorded the original soundtrack). While performances of existing media supported by a live orchestra aren’t exactly new, both Casino Royale and La La Land did the same thing earlier this year at the Royal Albert Hall and Town Hall Symphony Hall respectively, Dear Esther Live is the first time that this has been done for a video game.

The live orchestra really did enhance the performance beyond what the game is capable of

The staging for the show was quite simple, but this is to the performance’s benefit. With just the musical ensemble (including the narrator and player) on stage and a single, large screen projecting the game above the stage, the audience’s focus was only ever on the orchestra or the screen. While this did create small moments when I wasn’t sure where to look, as both the ensemble and the game were enchantingly entrancing, it wasn't a bad thing and it did mean that there was nothing that distracted me from the wonderful journey that the performance presented.

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The story of Dear Esther is a stunningly complicated one that truly deserved to be given the theatrical treatment. Set on a Hebridean island off the mainland of Scotland, Dear Esther gives players the chance to explore the island in whatever way they like, presenting the story through random audio cues that allow the player to piece together the story through their experience and interaction with it. As Dear Esther is such a personal game, I was apprehensive when first hearing about its adaptation to the stage as, in my experience with the game, my journey felt so private and intimate that I was unsure how it would be translated to the shared experience of the theatre. This problem was addressed through the constant presence of the player (Thomas McMullan), as it allowed the audience to experience the game through his personal journey, creating the shared experience that I was hoping for. While there were moments when the way in which the player was playing felt restrictive, as I would have liked to have gone in a different direction or spent longer exploring an area, McMullan did a fantastic job in creating an interesting and entrancing experience for the audience within his playthrough due to his almost cinematic use of the in-game camera; which he used for long, sweeping shots of the landscape and tension building reveals of areas of interest.

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When looking at shows in concert, the musical ensemble are always the stars, and this could not have been truer with Dear Esther Live. Huge credit must go to the orchestra who did a phenomenal job of taking Jessica Curry's already stunning soundtrack that much further through their presence and performance. Although there were points within the performance when I felt as if the orchestra could have been used more, such as when moments of silence went on for too long or when the sections of music felt too short, the live orchestra really did enhance the performance beyond what the game is capable of. The narrator (Oliver Dimsdale), however, truly stole the show as his confusing, fragmented, beautiful narration was how the audience experienced their journey and engaged with the story, and his constant presence centre stage made him the focal point of our experience, furthering his role as storyteller. It is also interesting to note the fact that both the soundtrack and narration of the performance were entirely dependent on the journey the player takes and each member of the ensemble has a screen in front of them that adapts to McMullan's playthrough and gives them their dynamic cues, further highlighting the ensemble’s brilliance when they must perform without knowing what will come next.

Overall, Dear Esther Live was an enchanting night that I will not forget. Combining the intimacy and journey of the already brilliant game with the performance and presence of a live orchestra created a wonderful piece of theatre that I would encourage anyone to watch, gamers and non-gamers alike. While there were moments when the experience wasn't as effective, they were mere teething problems in the creation of something truly special. Dear Esther Live has wonderfully combined video games and theatre and, I hope, is just the tip of the iceberg for a harmonious future relationship between these two mediums.

Gaming editor and 3rd year Drama student. Currently capturing anything that moves in Super Mario Odyssey. (@jack_cooper8)



Published

4th December 2017 at 12:21 pm



Images from

The Chinese Room



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