Adelaide Festival 2018 Theatre Review: The Far Side of the Moon

Who: Written and Directed by Robert Lepage, performed by Yves Jacques

What: The Far Side of the Moon

When: 2nd March to 7th March (full details on Adelaide Festival page)

Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre

How much: $35 – $99 (full details on Adelaide Festival page)

Lep 1
Yves Jacques as Philippe against the multipurpose wall/ portal set piece. Photo credit: Perth Festival

The Space Race between the United States and Soviet Union was an epoch-making series of events which has come to symbolize the course of human history during the 20th century. But were these incredible feats of science driven more by a dream for a further enlightened global civilisation, or by competitiveness to the point of narcissism? And what influence has our activity in space had on popular culture? In a new era where increasingly accessible extra-terrestrial travel seems foreseeable, the return of Québécois playwright Robert Lepage’s acclaimed ‘The Far Side of the Moon’ to stages across the world is apt. This piece’s exploration of humankind’s purpose and beauty in light of its insignificance is ingeniously amalgamated into the story of one struggling individual. Highly innovative use of set and media elevate the narrative’s complexity and render this production a sublime experience.

Philippe is a failed intellectual. He lives in a minuscule apartment where he works as a phone telemarketer on the weekends, looks after his dead mother’s goldfish and receives his declined PhD applications. Although he is often miserable, the philosophical wonders of the Space Race inspire him to persist both in his striving for academic success and in his attempts to resurrect his uneasy relationship with his brother. The dichotomy between the US and Russia becomes analogous to Philippe’s unspoken rivalry with his materialistic and flamboyant weather-presenter sibling. Notable is Philippe’s passionate analyses of moments in the history of space travel, and the subtle connections that are drawn between that narrative and his own. This device prompts a lyrical atmosphere that permeates throughout the story. Finally, after a disastrous paper presentation in Moscow, a glimmer of hope reaches Philippe in the form of a winning competition entrance. A video he has made about his everyday life is chosen to be broadcast across the universe as part of a ‘search for extra-terrestrial intelligence’ programme. At last, a chance to put his ideas out there!

Jacques’ performance incorporates elements of puppetry and mime. Photo Credit: Adelaide Festival.

This play is not outwardly spectacular or sensational, but therein lie its strengths. Set pieces appear stark, but are impressively multi-functional and riddled with cleverly designed details: A metal-rimmed portal transforms from space-shuttle hatch to washing machine. A stage-length mirror revolves on a horizontal axis to reveal scaffold-like beams and fluorescent lights which echo the structures that support spacecraft before take-off. A segmented black wall separating downstage from upstage serves as an elevator, apartment hallway, chalkboard. There are too many examples to discuss here, but it’s clear ‘The Far Side of the Moon’ showcases stylish production design at its finest.

An audience member is inclined to be almost unaware that this is a one-man show, such is the skill of Yves Jacques’ acting. His ability to naturally switch between characters and mesmerise the audience with spoken words or movement is soothing to watch. Jacques’ performance additionally incorporates elements of puppetry, mime and video projection which all come together to add to the magical quality, not to mention cutting-edge stagecraft, of the play. Laurie Andersons’ haunting score tops ‘The Far Side of the Moon’ off as possibly the most poetic work of theatrical art I’ve seen to date.

5 out of 5 stars

Katerina Grypma

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