Robert Lepage
Ex Machina

887 Credit: Érick Labbé

Fergus Linehan, the new director of the Edinburgh International Festival, seems instantly to have found the perfect recipe for success in his theatre programming.

All that is required is to ask the most creative geniuses in the world to prepare and present long solo shows without intervals.

Following The Encounter with Simon McBurney, Canadian auteur Robert Lepage takes to the stage next door with a very personal performance exploring the nature of memory.

The starting point of this European première was an invitation to recite the poem “Speak White” by Michèle Lalonde, which dangerously defied memorisation.

As a result, Lepage attempted to achieve this goal using a mnemonic technique that required him to recreate his history as meticulously as novelist Nicholson Baker is wont to do.

To add some magic, Lepage illustrates his story using a series of beautifully constructed models, together with computer generated graphics. These take us back to the apartment building at 887 Murray Avenue in Quebec City starting around 50 years ago.

For just over two hours, we are taken back to the performer’s youth. At one level, we meet his family and neighbours and suffer with Lepage Snr, a taxi driver, as his mother succumbs to Alzheimer’s Disease.

On a wider plain, Francophones were trying to create a free, independent Quebec for themselves and their efforts also impinge on the family.

As one watches and learns, the question arises as to how much of what we are hearing is true and how much has been deliberately introduced to improve the story.

Going one step futher, one is also obliged to ponder the extent to which the information is invented due to the way that our memories subconsciously fail and in doing so create their own new reality.

This should be theatre on the very smallest of scales but such is the imagination and stagecraft of Robert Lepage that the performance is entrancing and moving throughout, allowing us to understand the writer-performer more fully and to reconsider how our own experiences have shaped us.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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