Adelaide Festival. Ex Machina. Her Majesty’s Theatre.
The footage of early Russian space missions is grainy old black and white as seen from the porthole of Robert Lepage’s Far Side of the Moon.
There’s Soyuz, Luna, Saluyet, and Sputnik.
Actor Yves Jacques writes large upon the blackboard wall the name of Tsiolkovsky, the father of Russian rocketry, for the audience to ponder. The space program is more vanity than science, he asserts. It is the narcissism of the mortals who see the moon above them as a mirror. They probe space. They send messages into the mysterious infinity.
SETI is the computer reach of everyman to find and make contact with extra-terrestrial life. A puppet spaceman is seen in and through the portholes which open onto the void of space. He’s a little white space walker, a man probing the moon and yonder.
But, suggests the play’s creator, perhaps the sacred place should be the far side of the moon where instead of looking at himself, man would look into the great void.
Thus arrives the name of this renowned piece of Ex Machina Theatre.
And from the artistry of the marvellous French Canadian actor, Jacques, emerge the characters of an earthly story. Two estranged brothers are brought together by the death of their mother. Andre is a successful TV weather man. Phillipe is the thinker and dreamer, the space wonderer, but a man with an unlucky streak. He enters the SETI competition, to make a short film to be sent into space. He also gets all his timing wrong when he makes his own first air trip to a conference. His brother, Andre, is the busy one, too busy to take care of his mother’s fish, his mother’s last living thing. Indeed, he was too busy for much of the clean-out of her apartment and is left with the final chore of taking out the shelves which the brothers used to stay apart from each other in their bedroom. It gets stuck in the lift, another symbolic void in the story, stranding him against the clock. He telephones angrily for support and for someone else to tell work why he is going to be a no-show.
This and the many scenes of the play are delivered via the opening and closing of a wall of sliding panels which cover the lower quarter of the stage. The washing machine throbs there and the porthole opens there. A lecture theatre materialises from there. An apartment materialises there with that poor fish swimming in its own black void. The actor moves between characters, with an ironing board as his primary prop becoming all things, most spectacularly, a motor scooter zooming past a projected landscape to Quebec’s Plains of Abraham whence a war with the English was lost.
The low-set staging of Far Side of the Moon is fascinating to behold. The solitary actor segues between characters, including his mother and a doctor, with practised ease. It is two hours of hard work for the actor, his only companion the puppeteer, Eric Leblanc, out of sight. He, himself, must fly through the porthole into space. It is an extraordinary moment. But, none more so than the climax of the production when he is seen as a weightless man floating upside down in space. It is quite spectacular and it’s all achieved through mirrors.
When: 2 to 7 Mar
Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre