22 THE LIST 12—26 Apr 2001
ROBERT LEPAGE’s one-man play The Far Side Of The Moon has been enthralling audiences all over planet Earth. The List touched down at the Sydney Festival to talk to him about the Cold War space race. It was the Russians wot won it, insists the Quebecois prodigy.
Words: Mark Brown
sun-baked Darling Harbour in Sydney‘s city centre is a location more appropriate to discussion of maritime travel than space exploration. but it is here that I meet Robert
Lepage to talk about a drama based upon the Cold War
moon race. The hi-tech competition between the Soviet Union and the United States may seem more suited to big budget movies than the limited possibilities of the humble stage. bttt the Quebecois actor/director has never been much affected by the constraints of the theatre.
The Far Side Of The Moon twins the immense events during the conquest of space with the story of two estranged Quebec City brothers coming to terms with their mother‘s death. It carries a combination of the truly grand and the quintessentially human which will be familiar to Scottish audiences. Last time Lepage and his [ix Machina company came here it was to present Geometry ()f‘Miruc/cs. a play that brought together sophisticated architectural and mathematical ideas with the poetry of everyday life.
For the dramatist there were simple. personal reasons for linking the high drama of space exploration with typical. earthbound lives. He was born in 1957. the year in which the Soviets began the first space programme. The excitement of the space age. he explains. punctuated what was. otherwise. a difficult childhood (from the age of five he suffered from alopecia. the condition in which hair does not replace itself. cripplingly embarrassing for someone growing up). Reluctant to write directly about the tribulations of his early life. Lepage
‘If people don’t know how it works they are stunned at the moment, but when they come out they feel stupid.’
Like an honest magician, Lepage impresses us with
the ingenious simplicity behind his wonderful images
found in the story of the cosmonauts ‘a good way to talk about these areas. because it‘s much more about my fascinations'.
Those fascinations. it tttrns out. are less with the science of space travel than with the poetic inspirations of many of the Russian pioneers. Little attracted by what he describes as the purely 'practical‘ approach of the Americans. he sees the Russians as the free spirits of this strangest of phoney wars. lie points out that Konstantin 'l‘siolkovsky. the father of the Soviet space programme. first thought about travelling to the moon while reading a fairytale at the age of live. ‘The Russians.‘ he says. ‘were romantic heroes. and they were very much influenced by the poets. the writers. the artists.‘
The director loves the way the Soviets. following their discovery of the far side of the moon. promptly named a crater after (‘yrano de Bergerac. author of the first known story about a human being making a lunar trip.
There is. in the transformation of poetic visions into the extraordinary spectacles of moon landings and satellite launches. a parallel with Lepage‘s approach to drama. His is. above all. a theatre of transformation. In lilsium't'. his astonishing one-tnan Hum/ct. there seemed to be no physical or geographical situation into which he could not be taken by the combined forces of his imagination and remarkable stage mechanics. His new play. in which a lecture hall quickly becomes the interior of a passenger aircraft. and a washing machine the