Posts Tagged ‘Robert Lepage’

I feel privileged to have seen many theatre productions by great directors from around the world, like Canada’s Robert Lepage and the late Yukio Ninagawa from Japan. Ivo van Hove joined my list of favourites some 17 years ago with his production of Arthur Milker’s A View from the Bridge here at the Young Vic, and 12 shows later he’s back with this solo piece adapted from Edouard Louis’ 2018 autobiographical novel.

It follows the relationship between Edouard and his father from childhood to the latter’s industrial accident and subsequent disability. He was an abusive father and husband, a racist and a homophobe, particularly cruel to Edouard as a gay boy. Hans Kesting plays both father and son at all ages, together with cameos as mother and brother, switching with ease. The mental cruelty is a tough watch. Towards the end it goes off on a tangent, ranting against French leaders for the right-wing turns that impacted the poor and disadvantaged such as Edouard’s dad.

van Hove’s regular designer Jan Verswayveld creates some striking visual images in a black room with just a bed, door and windows, particularly in his use of lighting. It’s very much in van Hove’s ‘house style’ which gives it a visceral quality. It’s an extraordinary tour de force from Kesting, an actor with great presence and range. The turn from personal to political towards the end, albeit true to the source, did jar with me though; it felt as if it was bolted on, an addition rather than an integral part of the story. That said, it’s an enthralling if harrowing ninety minutes.

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This was one of the first Robert Lepage shows I ever saw, 24 years ago at the Cottesloe Theatre, but the combination of my poor memory and a significant re-working means this is like approaching a new show. Like all of Lepage’s work, it’s a flight of imagination, this time linking together Jean Cocteau, Miles Davies and Lepage himself.

French Canadian Robert is in Paris to record both the English and French narration for a documentary. He stays in his usual room in the Hotel La Louisiane, once occupied by famous names like Jean Paul Satre and Juliette Greco. In 1949, Miles Davis is in Paris where he meets Picasso and Satre and falls in love with Juliette Greco. He’s in the same hotel room, until he returns to New York City without Juliette and turns to heroin. In the same year, Jean Cocteau is returning to Paris after a visit to New York City, writing his Letter to the Americans. He’s addicted to opiates too. Miles Davies returns to Paris twelve years later to record an improvised soundtrack for a Louis Malle film. Cocteau, Davies and Robert are connected by having lost a lover.

We move between times and locations – hotel rooms, recording studios, night clubs and mid-air – in a half-cube that moves. Characters enter from anywhere, often whilst the space is moving. Projections create door and window frames. Beds, chairs and tables emerge. It takes a while to get into it’s gentle rhythm, but once you do it’s like entering a dream. All of the speech is in monologues, some to offstage characters on the phone or by intercom. It’s rather captivating, as you make the connections and piece it together for yourself. Classic Lepage, though maybe not CLASSIC Lepage.

Marc Labreche has the lions share of the action, playing Robert (an uncanny likeness) and Cocteau. Wellesley Robertson III is Miles Davies, a mute character. There is a brief appearance by someone as Juliette Greco in a bath!

Lepage always stimulates my imagination and makes me smile with his visual theatrical magic and this was no exception.

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I missed last year and curtailed the year before, so this is my first full week in Edinburgh for three years, which may be why I enjoyed it so much. It seemed like a vintage year, with an extraordinarily high 70% hit rate of great shows and only two bummers out of 26.

The seemingly insatiable supply of monologues continued, with seven of the 13 plays falling into this category. Despite my ambivalence, even dislike, of them, there were some real crackers, led by Sherman Cymru’s Iphigenia in Splott, an extraordinary take on Greek Tragedy with a stunning performance by Sophie Melville. Canadian genius Robert Lepage was back with another of his imaginative, innovative solo shows, this time 887 blended memories of his youth with material about memory itself. Comedian Mark Steel‘s show was, like Mark Thomas’ wonderful Bravo Figaro a few years back, a biographical story – in this case how he found out about his real parents. It was moving, poignant and very very funny. The fourth 5-star show was another flight of imagination, this time The Anomotion Show with percussionist Evelyn Glennie playing in the 17th century courtyard of George Heriot School whilst the live painting of Maria Rud was projected onto its walls. Brilliant. The final day produced not one but two gems, starting with Duncan McMillan’s extraordinarily engaging and captivating one-man play about depression, Every Brilliant Thing, brilliantly performed by Jonny Donahue, which I’ve been trying to catch for some time. Our one and only opera ended the trip with the most inventive and original Die Zauberflote from Komische Oper Berlin in collaboration with our own theatre genius’ 1927. Animation, performance and music in complete harmony.

The Traverse continued its trailblazing, hosting the National Theatre of Scotland’s Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, a rude and hugely funny play with music that followed convent school girls on a school outing (bender) to a singing competition in Edinburgh, with six very talented young actresses and a female band, directed and designed by women! and Vanishing Point’s outstanding, creative take on dementia, Tomorrow. They also hosted young Belgian company Ontroerend Goed’s latest unsettling piece, A Game of You, where I was observed, interviewed and imitated before observing myself, and leaving with a DVD of my experience! Their other two shows fared less well, with Christians, a debate about hell, hard for a non-believer to engage with (though superbly staged and performed, with a 24-piece choir) and another monologue, Crash, which was clever but didn’t captivate like some of the others.

Musical high’s included Lennon: Through A Glass Onion, which showcased his songs – sung and played by a duo – interspersed with quotes from the man himself, Antonio Forcione (again!) with his brilliant Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale, hugely enthusiastic five-piece accapella group Simply Soweto and Hackney Colliery Band, who weren’t at all what I was expecting (a brass band!) but whose rhythmic jazz funk was infectious late-night fun. Musical Theatre featured, with enterprising amateur productions of The Addams Family and Sunshine on Leith, neither of which have yet had London outings though both deserve them.

More solo turns, with Jim Cartwright’s Raz, about preparing for, and going out on, a night out, performed brilliantly by the playwright’s son James, contrasting with stand-up comedian Mark Watson‘s highly strung but hysterical Work In Progress. Then there was 10x10x10 where ten comedians did ten monologues written by ten other comedians – except  there were only six, as they split it into two shows, and I can’t tell you who wrote or performed them, except Jo Caulfield who did one. Not bad, though. The big disappointment was Tony’s Last Tape, where an interesting life was made deadly dull.

Other Welsh contributions included Ghost Dance, a highly creative piece of physical theatre but with a confusing narrative comparing a native American plight with a Welsh one. There was innovative use of a smart phone app for English dialogue and subtitles and more polystyrene than you’ve ever seen in one place. Not a lot to say about a rather amateur take on (part of) the folk tale The Mabinogion, except to say I blame Judith!

The Missing Hancock’s featured two lost scripts staged as if they were being recorded for radio, with occasional ad libs, by an exceptional cast. I’d enjoyed them on the radio and I enjoyed them live too. Favourite playwright Jack Thorne’s sexually explicit, harrowing but brilliant play The Solid Life of Sugar Water was another theatrical highlight with two fine performances and, unusually on the fringe outside the Traverse, a great design. Finally, a novel immersive staging of a rare Tennessee Williams play, Confessional, where you are in a seaside bar with the dysfunctional characters partaking of a beer or two with them. Not a great play, but inventively staged.

The usual diversity with higher quality this year. No doubt some will appear elsewhere, so now you know what to catch.

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Expectations were running high, but I hadn’t clocked that this was the 13th of Robert Lepage’s shows I’d seen! (20 if you include the 2 Shakespeare’s, 2 operas, 1 collaboration and 2 Peter Gabriel concerts). It was the first ‘in-the-round’, or 360 as this is billed at The Roundhouse, a new venue for him.

The drum that you surround is 1 metre high, with its outer edge a revolve and in its floor 36 trap doors for people and props to enter and move around. Above there’s a canopy which you can light or project onto and which has four slits from which playing card shaped screens descend, and a series of fans around the edges. Underneath it are all of the actors, technicians, props, dressing ‘rooms’ and electrical and mechanical gubbins. It’s a technological marvel and I’d love to have a peep inside, but it did slow things down a lot.

The show is his usual jigsaw of seemingly unconnected people and events. This time we’re in Las Vegas and the Nevada desert. There’s a couple getting married in an Elvis themed chapel. She’s pregnant. There are UN soldiers on R & R from training in the desert. There’s a British TV producer who’s spooked. One hotel maid (who’s sick) is training a new one. There are a couple of bars and a lot of bedrooms – oh, and a cowboy called Dick.

You normally leave a Lepage show with your brain finishing off the jigsaw, full to the brim at the end of a feast and exhilarated by the theatricality and ingenuity of it all. Here, I gasped when only six actors took their bow and gasped again when eight technician’s heads popped up too. I admired the extraordinary technological and logistical achievement, but I felt flat as the show had left me cold. Like Feast a couple of weeks before, I had enjoyed many of the component parts but was left unsatisfied by the whole.

I won’t give up on the genius after one misfire, but my confidence is dented (there are three more parts to come!) and I do hope it’s not a case of the machines taking over; I still smile when I think of what he created with an overhead projector in Needles & Opium!

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When I look back on my theatre-going life, Canadian genius and polymath Robert Lepage will keep cropping up. I’ve now seen 20 of the shows he’s created, including 12 of his original theatrical pieces, a couple of Shakespeare’s, a couple of operas, a couple of Peter Gabriel concerts, a dance piece and a song cycle!  As I said, genius and polymath.

The Blue Dragon picks up where 1985’s Dragons Trilogy (revived in 2005) left off. Pierre now lives in China where he is involved with a young local artist and is visited by an old flame. In addition to the story of these relationships, we learn about life in modern China.

In truth, it’s not Lepage’s best work, by a long way. The trademark inventiveness is there, with clever design and beautiful imagery, but the story is too thin and it’s delivered in a pace that’s far too slow. Still, second-rate Lepage is still worth a look, which gives you a clue as to how thrilling premiere league Lepage is.

They announced at the end that this was the 200th performance of this show, which has travelled around the world. Shame it wasn’t as good as others which have had fewer performances.

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