Monday, March 5, 2018

THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON ADELAIDE FESTIVAL



The Far Side of The Moon.


Written and directed by Robert LePage. Ex Machina. Her Majesty’s Theatre. Adelaide Festival. March 2-7 2018.


 Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Yves Jacques in The Far Side of the Moon. Photo by Sophie Grenier

Robert LePage’s The Far Side of the Moon premiered in 2000. The production parallels the relationship of two very different brothers and their competitive natures with the emerging space race between the Russian cosmonauts inspired by the cosmos and the American astronauts reaching for the stars. It is a nostalgic exploration of the ordinary on Earth and the extraordinary in Space. One brother, a successful, wealthy and well-known television weather presenter derides his brother’s lack of drive and ambition.

However, it is the idealistic brother who aspires to unlock the genius of Soviet rocket scientist and founder of the Russian space programme, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. Like the retiring bother, Tsiolkovsky lived as a recluse, but had held a fascination for the mysteries of space since his childhood and dreamed of constructing a tower between the earth and the moon.  He was fascinated by the unknown limits of space, and deeply curious about the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

LePage is theatre’s grand wizard, constructing hypotheses, conjuring ideas and imagery to stretch the imagination and challenging our notions of ourselves and the world we inhabit. Our preoccupation with the Moon becomes a reflection of our preoccupation with ourselves, reflected in human vanity. It is a vanity that cannot exist on the far side of the Moon, obscured from sight and void of reflection. It is the side that holds fascination for the brother intent on exploring Tsiolkovsky’s dream.
Before the lights in the theatre dim, a vast bank of neon lights shine out from the proscenium arch. Slowly they rise and turn to show a mirror that reflects the image of actor Yves Jacques, standing silently before it, his body reflected. What follows is a magical display of LePage’s brilliant imagination and theatrical ingenuity. A laundromat appears and the clothes tumble through the suds. Later it becomes a space capsule that draws the brother into it. An astronaut puppet emerges from the capsule, which appears to serve also as an MRI for a brother’s brain scan. It is all done so simply, so imaginatively and so clearly. Along the wall, footage of the Space Race between 1959 and 1975 is projected until the moment of reconciliation between the countries. The brothers also come to  a reconciliation forged by their mother’s death and the mundane matters of organizing life’s responsibilities. The ordinary and the extraordinary are at the epicentre of LePage’s preoccupation with our place within the universe and our view of ourselves at that place.

Central to the production is Yves Jacques performance. It is nothing short of phenomenal. As the only actor upon the stage, he takes on the roles of both brothers as well as a lady at the laundromat. Each role is assumed with total truth. His timing is superb, his performance measured with perfect control. Whether the pragmatic brother, the idealistic one or a woman pushing a trolley across the stage, every detail is observed with absolute conviction. His telephone conversations with his brother are perfectly paced and paused for interjection. So natural, so true and so engaging, Jacques is a delight to watch as he mimes press-ups with an ironing board, which also becomes a motor bike.
As we watch the brother float through space, we may be overcome by what LePage refers to as lunar nostalgia and a desire to reconcile ourselves to our infinitesimal place within the universe. The Far Sideof the Moon with all its whimsy, inventiveness and theatrical wonder is a journey that leads us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place within the world.       


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