EXPECTATIONS ARE GREAT. BREATH IS baited. Excitement is approaching fever pitch. It’s no exaggeration to describe Geometry ()f Miracles as the most eagerly anticipated theatrical event to be staged in Scotland in what’s left of this Millennium. The Ex Machina production represents the latest fruit of a decade long relationship between the maverick Quebecois director Robert Lepage and Glasgow’s Tramway. with the National Theatre forming the final point of the creative eternal triangle. Previous productions such as A Dream Play and the groundbreaking. reputation-making Tectonic Plates have attained legendary status. and the new piece looks set to follow suit.
Geometry Q/‘Miraeles is that rare thing. a play about architecture. In its 1998 incarnation. seen in Canada and Europe. the central character — godfather of American design Frank Lloyd Wright — was no more than a hat and a coat. Now. he’s fleshed out by a real actor, and joined by other hist- orical figures including the Armenian choreo- grapher and spiritual guru Georgei Gurdjieff, who influenced Wright's third wife. and in turn, the architect himself.
Innovation and audacity are the defining elements running throughout Robert Lepage‘s career — after all. this is the man who gave the world Elsinore, a solo interpretation of Hamlet. His work is characterised by a hunger for experimenta- tion which refuses to recognise the perceived limitations of his chosen artform. And anyway. if theatre doesn‘t have the where- withal to accomodate his ideas. he simply incorporates the strengths of other genres.
‘Moving towards the 21st century. people are more and more aware that the performing arts are taking quite a turn.’ he says. ‘We have to re—invent ways of collaborating to see where our performing arts are going. whether it's theatre or dance or opera. The barriers between these disciplines are starting to fall. In the theatre world I can feel how theatre is being more and more ‘sung‘ or 'danced‘ or ‘transposed’ as opposed to the good old American way of doing theatre - the realistic urban tragedy. If you look at the work of a lot of directors. it is more and more operatic.‘
It‘s not just music which involves the proverbial fat lady singing which inspires the director. however. When you talk to Robert Lepage about theatre, he talks back about rock ’n‘ roll. In the space of a two- hour conversation in his native Quebec City. he alludes to Brian Eno. Genesis. Laurie Anderson. and Joni Mitchell. They say he‘s a fan of dance music too.
‘I learned theatre in rock 'n‘ roll,’ says the 41-year-old. who was sixteen before he saw his first professional play. “My taste for theatre comes from seeing a Genesis show where they put masks on, tell stories, change characters. do lighting effects, and you're there clapping. That‘s where my interest comes from. It‘s not from seeing a
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r y were 4 starting to ‘ ‘ have rock 'n' roll reactions.’ Robert Lepage
good performance by John Gielgud in King Lear at the National.’
This isn‘t to say a Lepage production has the flavour of a rock gig (although he did direct Peter Gabriel‘s Secret World Tour in 1993). but it indicates the intensity of response he‘s after. He works in front of an audience. developing his productions on the road over several years. The first dates usually get a critical mauling, but he listens to the audience. revises and rethinks until finally the show begins to rock.
Watching Geometry ()fMll'(1('[(’.S' in Toronto last May it had the unfocused quality of an early jam session. Lepage recognises this. but when it hits Glasgow. he expects it‘ll burn down the house. ‘The last shows we did in Paris and Italy were starting to have these rock 'n‘ roll reactions.’ he says.
It’s this organic way of working. coupled with his genius for simple theatrical expression. that makes Lepage a fascinating director. He may take a while to get to the destination. but the journey is never less than stimulating. And when he hits home. the results are sublime. proving that a slow gestation period can lead to a spectacular birth. ‘1 am not a good director.‘ he says. without false modesty. ‘l‘m a good midwife. A director means you have this amazing vision. and you sculpt people into that thing. I‘m a midwife in that I help people express what they have to express.‘
That the Lepage offspring are so often delivered right here in Scotland is a definite blessing on the nation‘s cultural life. However, the unique staging opportunities and spirit of adventure offered by Tramway are only part of the reason he repeatedly returns here. The director also feels a deep sense of intercontinental bonding: ‘There is a connection between Scotland and Quebec. something that seems a bit more natural than Quebec and France.‘ he says. ‘There's an affinity. We have common points in our culture. and I always feel very at home in Scotland. Glasgow and Edinburgh have the same kind of clash as Montreal and Quebec City. There’s a parallel there. Our societies seem to echo each other.’
Geometry Of Miracles is at Tramway@SECC, Glasgow, from Tue 30 Mar—Sat 3 Apr. See Theatre listings page 58 for details.
18 Mar—l Apr 1999 THE HST 19