March 05, 2018

The Far Side of the Moon Theatre Review

Daily Review
Adelaide Festival

Murray Bramwell

Lunar Tunes

The Far Side of the Moon
Written and directed by Robert Lepage
Ex Machina.
Her Majesty’s, Adelaide.
March 3.

It was the Soviet Luna 3 mission in 1959 which first captured photos of the far side of the moon. They discovered mountains and dark regions which the Russians named the Sea of Moscow, the Sea of Desire and the Sea of Ingenuity.

For French Canadian theatre director, Robert Lepage, the far side of the moon is also a place where humans can’t see themselves, or their planet. It calls for a completely new perspective. Maybe those seas of Desire and Ingenuity can help us find a more cosmic view of our lives.

Philippe lives in Quebec City and he is writing a PhD thesis on popular culture and the space programs of the 1960s. He is forty-ish and a perpetual student. His thesis proposals get rejected because as a philosopher he is too weird and as a scientist he is too dreamy. He is an advocate for a space elevator – a structure built from Earth that reaches for the stars. It was Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s idea in 1895, inspired by the Eiffel Tower.

Lepage’s richly textured narrative re-captures the excitement of the Space Race which began with the Russian achievements – Sputnik, the first satellite, in 1957, and in 1961, the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first person to orbit the Earth. These exploits and the subsequent rivalry from the United States as part of the extra-terrestrial Cold War loom large in Philippe’s imaginings. It is the cosmonauts that interest him and he’s a fan of elderly Russian heroes, like Alexey Leonov, the first man to walk in space. Old black and white images of the early missions are projected large on the wide screen (doubling as a mirror) that runs the full width of the stage.

Several portholes form part of the constantly morphing set. Philippe is doing his laundry and while loading the washer he climbs in. A video feed shows him from the reverse angle and then the porthole becomes a space capsule and the mundane routines of his solitary apartment have turned into a search for the stars.

This is also a tale of two brothers. Andre, younger than Philippe and in many ways antithetical to him, is an extraverted, self-important minor celebrity – a presenter on the Weather Channel. Philippe despises his values and his gaudy success but the recent death of their mother has forced them to deal with practical matters like dismantling her tiny apartment which contains some of their childhood relics and, finding a home for Beethoven, her pet goldfish.

Many of Lepage’s endearing signatures are seen at their best in this production. First performed by the director himself in 2000, it has biographical elements and, like the much more recent 887, a tender, almost elegiac sense of distant family memory.

In an impressive solo performance, Yves Jacques wittily presents both brothers and navigates the complexities of the staging with marvellous ease. The fluid mix of newsreel, live video, puppetry, mirror illusions and remote controlled miniature moon buggies is Robert Lepage at his theatrical best. Especially when harmonised with Laurie Anderson’s spacey music, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, excerpts from Coltrane, and the crooning I Gaze at the Moon. This is an original, funny, mournful, gently reflective visit to the other side of ourselves, a two hour orbit to remember.

“The Far Side of the Moon Theatre Review,” Daily Review,
March 5, 2018.

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