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Festival review: The Far Side of the Moon

Adelaide Festival

Bold, fresh and original, Robert Lepage’s ‘The Far Side of the Moon’ – an exploration of the complicated coming together of two middle-aged brothers following the death of their mother – is theatre at its finest, writes Jo Vabolis.

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Philippe’s lonely life is spent in solitary pursuits. An academic chasing professional recognition, he struggles with managing the emptiness of his day-to-day existence as recollections of his childhood and a passion for contemplating the heavenly bodies in the night skies lead him to wonder about his relationship to the cosmos.

Canadian writer and director Robert Lepage has spoken of enduring nightmares in which the loss of both of his parents causes him to “disappear into space”. When his parents did pass away, however, his experience was entirely different. He was enriched with an urge to live fully and to make as much of life as possible.

This realisation, and an interest in the astronautical world, was the catalyst for the making of The Far Side of the Moon — an exploration of the complicated coming together of two middle-aged brothers following the death of their elderly mother.

The solo show was created by Lepage in 2000, has toured worldwide, been made into an Oscar-nominated film and is now being presented for the first time at an Adelaide Festival. Lepage’s previous shows here — Seven Streams of the River Ota (1998) and Needles and Opium (2014) — were audience favourites, and The Far Side of the Moon is likely to be so, too.

The two brothers are Philippe, a philosophy student whose life is an endless series of disappointments, and André, a high-profile TV weatherman with no shortage of self-confidence. Their conflicting views on life mean they’ve never shared a close bond but are now forced to spend time together as they sort out their mother’s affairs.

These two lives, seemingly a solar system apart, crash together alongside the history of the space race between the USSR and the US. The competition between the siblings is mirrored by the competing efforts of the Russians and the Americans as they rush to land the first man on the moon.

Lepage’s company — Ex Machina — functions as a laboratory for the incubation of new forms of multidisciplinary theatre. Its creative team includes puppeteers, video artists and set technicians in collaboration with designers, writers and actors. The result is work that is bold, fresh and original.

In this performance, a tilting mirrored scaffold, a wall of sliding panels, a porthole and an ironing board transform to depict a series of urban environments and the far reaches of space. Projected archival film footage and digital imagery enables the hole in the wall to suggest a plane window, a washing machine and the inside of a medical scanner.

The visual trickery is never less than absorbing and holds one’s attention for the entire performance.

Although the Moon may have lost some of its mystery, it retains its poetic strength. A lunar motif recurs throughout the work and builds the narrative to a meditative, satisfying climax.

This is theatre at its finest — intellectually and emotionally rewarding. The opening night audience at her Majesty’s Theatre gave a standing ovation to actor Yves Jacques and it was indisputably deserved; his solo performance, playing the two brothers, their mother and a series of other characters, was magnificent.

There’s no doubt that The Far Side of the Moon will be remembered as one of the highlights of this year’s festival.

The Far Side of the Moon is showing at Her Majesty’s Theatre until Wednesday, March 7. Read more InDaily Adelaide Festival stories and reviews here.

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