Robert LePage’s The Far Side of the Moon is an inspired piece of theatre.
Set against the backdrop of the ‘space race’ between America and Russia, LePage explores the complex and damaged relationship between two brothers. After the death of their mother, loner Phillippe attempts a reconciliation with his brash, successful brother Andre. The rivalry between the two brothers is neatly analogised by the competition between the two nations as they reached for the stars, revealed through nostalgic documentary footage projected against the backdrop.
Loner Phillippe struggles to find the success of his weatherman brother, a bombastic television personality who condescends to his older sibling. Phillippe is obsessed with space, and particularly the Russian perspective on space travel, passionately discussing the term cosmonaut and its etymological link to art and beauty with a rather prosaic barman. But the world seems to conspire against Phillippe, keeping his feet firmly anchored to the ground. Despite this, he enters a competition to record a video and have it projected into the universe as part of the international search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.
Yves Jacques plays both brothers in this one man show – in addition to a range of secondary characters. The transitions are slick, with unique identities clearly established by this accomplished actor. Clever plot devices – a chance phone call between Phillippe and a woman from his past, Phillippe’s video for the SETI project – provide the right amount of back story to develop a genuine sense of pathos for Phillippe’s solitary existence. However, frequent moments of humour pepper the script, preventing this from being a simple wallowing in misery. Jacques first took on these characters in 2001, and his experience was reflected in his polished performance on Saturday night.
A portal in the set becomes a motif throughout the production, performing various roles as a washing machine, goldfish bowl and spacecraft hatch. Its several functions symbolise a key theme of the play: the tension between entrapment and freedom. In the mundanity of his existence, Phillippe yearns for the stars – or more accurately – the cosmos. Simultaneously tethered and adrift, Phillippe nevertheless yearns for connection: with his mother, the cosmonauts he admires, and most importantly, his brother.
A highlight of The Far Side of the Moon is its inventive staging. The transformation of an ironing board into a bench press, MRI bed, and moped is a whimsical touch that underscores Phillippe’s imagination. Sliding panels subtly rearrange the stage into various locations and the ever-present portal provides visual continuity. Projections and lighting are also used to great effect. Laurie Anderson, an avant garde performance artist and composer, provides an atmospheric score.
In the haunting final scene, Phillippe waits in a soulless airline departure lounge. Fluid choreography and suspended mirrors give the impression that he is drifting in space. It is an affecting final image of the power of dreams.
The Far Side of the Moon will be playing at the Adelaide Festival from Friday 2 – Wednesday 7 March
Image: Sophie Grenier