Review: The Far Side of the Moon at Perth Festival

Zoe Barron

Writer and Director Robert Lepage's lonely, human story is spectacularly told at the 2018 Perth International Arts Festival.
Review: The Far Side of the Moon at Perth Festival

Image: The Far Side of the Moon via Perth Festival. Photo (c) Sophie Grenier.

Robert Lepage’s one man show, The Far Side of the Moon is a play of parallels, gently drawn. There is the parallel of two brothers, now grown, their rivalry mirroring that of the USA/Russian space race that haunted their childhood. Grainy, real life 50s footage and audio from this time period paints the background of the play, projected above, around and into scenes as we move seamlessly backward and forward in time. While the cold war and space race have formed the thematic tension of numerous works of theatre, literature and film, Lepage’s work – touring since 2000 – retains its relevance with its timeless, deeply human story.

 Phillipe, with whom we spend the most time, is a lonely, luckless philosopher, who has written a thesis about the vanity of space travel. He reflects the Russian cosmonauts – underfunded and unsuccessful but, by his definition, inspired seekers of something bigger than themselves. His brother Andre, on the other hand, a TV weather presenter focused on money and fame, has all of the brashness of the American astronauts. The reluctant two have been forced back into a shared orbit by the death of their mother, their one remaining parent, and her death has quietly unboxed a myriad of family cobwebs and small traumas.

While Lepage himself was the show’s first performer, and played both brothers in the 2003 film adaptation, Yves Jacques has since taken up that mantle. He plays all characters through confident phone work, one-sided conversations, and powerful, silent scenes of physical character development. Some emotional cadence is lost in his rushed and underweighted mime and puppetry, but his performance is otherwise beautifully understated, each character fully realised and subtly distinct.

Around him, the sparse yet spectacular set hums and moves like a benevolent machine. A movable mirror that spans the length of the stage becomes a ceiling, a wall, and a bar in a hotel. It reflects the action from all angles; the way, we learn from Phillipe, vein early humans assumed the moon to be a reflection of the earth. A back wall slides open to reveal a closet, a small room, the series of doorways that make up Phillip’s apartment; it hosts a moving portal which becomes a washing machine, a plane or spaceship window, a fishbowl. An ironing board is a table, a moped, a series of exercise machines. The spectacle is powerful but smooth and unselfconscious. Amongst this, Éric Leblanc’s flawless puppetry blends beautifully into the magic of the set and Laurie Anderson’s unique and formidable soundtrack washes powerfully over the scenes. Altogether the effect like falling through a dream.

The natural progression of scenes means attention spans are not tested during the two hours sans interval. Instead, the audience is suited up and pulled weightlessly along, mesmerised but no doubt wondering how on earth it’s done.

Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5

The Perth International Arts Festival Presents:
The Far Side of the Moon 

Writer and Director: Robert Lepage
Performer: Yves Jacques
Puppeteer: Éric Leblanc
Score: Laurie Anderson
Stage manager: Francis Beaulieu
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA
Fri 22 – Sun 24 Feb
PIAF 2018
7 Feb-23 Mar

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Zoe Barron is a writer, editor and student nurse living in Fremantle, WA.