Edinburgh International Festival 2015
Robert Lepage researches how we organise thoughts in the memory – and sets of on a quest. The journey is unexpected, masterful, poignant – and compellingly performed.
Robert Lepage presents his European Premiere of 887 at the Edinburgh International Festival, August 2015. Written, designed, directed and performed by Lepage, it is a huge undertaking and achievement. Lepage is renowned for cutting edge theatre that pushes the limits of technology, performance and the imagination – and this show continues his remarkable journey. Lepage created 887 when he starting wondering about memory and how it works. He realised that remembering something like an address or phone number from decades earlier is often easier than remembering what one did recently. Why is this? So Lepage went on a quest, researching the science and facts, thus 887 was born.
Lepage offers a very personal introduction onstage at the large Edinburgh International Conference Centre. It is a voluminous space and not a traditional theatre setting – it works for this show, which has the sense of a presentation with visual aids. However, this being a Robert Lepage creation, we should never assume what will follow, and what follows is nothing short of masterful.
What seems to be a model or architect’s maquette of a building is revealed to be a house where Lepage grew up, and it holds treasure! He is a compelling storyteller and recalls the neighbours in detail and the building becomes alive with video clips, animated objects and Lepage’s articulate and always fascinating narration.
There’s a Rear Window feel of voyeurism about seeing people’s lives play out in front of our eyes but there is nothing untoward about what we see. Lepage grew up in Quebec City and we are transported back to this time as he continually searches for a process in which we organise our memories. One poignant memory (among many) is when his grandmother comes to stay with his family and how her influence and personality on the young Lepage stays with him to this day.
Stories jump around and are recalled constantly – but these are quality recollections – thorough and spontaneous and creatively told with rich text, objects, shadows and multimedia. Suddenly we are drawn into each apartment or family and can envision ourselves having dinner with Lepage’s young friends or we are there to welcome him home when, as an adult, he returns to his apartment after work. The experience is visceral and unexpected.
One premise that triggers his interest into memory that runs through the play is that he has been invited to perform a memorised poem at an event, Speak White by Michèle Lalonde. However, he notices that memorising the lines is becoming more difficult and he feels pressure that he will not do a good job. In his own search for memory and its function he finds visual explanations, such as by creating a game to explain how the right and left sides of the brain works, using the building and it’s levels as a clever analogy. The play contains several illuminating explanations like this, it’s a wonderful way to learn about science!
At two hours with no interval the show is substantial, yet every moment watching and listening to Lepage reveal this unpredictable story is fascinating. It’s a beautiful thought-provoking show performed by the personable and brilliant Robert Lepage.
Originally published in www.ForAllEvents.com