“The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever.” – Konstantin E Tsiolkovsky
The 1960s heralded many firsts in the field of space exploration, including the first human spaceflight and the first Moon landing. This era of space travel formed the backdrop to the childhood of Québécois writer, director and actor Robert Lepage.
Lepage first performed The Far Side of the Moon in the year 2000, the year I graduated high school, and the year the first orbiting of an asteroid was achieved. It is a touching story of reconciliation between two brothers – one straight, one gay – set against the backdrop of the Cold War Space Race.
Theatre, TV and film actor Yves Jacques is both a longtime friend of Lepage and longtime star of this one-man show. Through the brothers André and Philippe, both brilliantly played by Jacques, we are reminded of the two types of people in the world – those who remind their siblings to dismantle large furniture before transporting it, and those who risk damaging large furniture by shoving it in an insufficiently sized elevator.
The writing is warm and funny, but most importantly, it’s real. It has had a few rewrites in its 18 years in theatres, and as a result is perfectly polished from start to finish. We go from learning that some ancient cultures believed the moon was a giant mirror in the sky to considering the difference between ‘astronaut’ and ‘cosmonaut’.
Lepage had wanted to do a piece about Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, who became depressed after his return to Earth. The playwright identified with the emotional states Aldrin went through as his mother had just died and he was dealing with his own grief.
He found inspiration in the form of a laundromat washing machine door, which became the door between worlds he needed to tell both the story of his mother and of Aldrin. The show has since been performed in more than forty-five cities.
A prolific and much-awarded playwright, Lepage has been called ‘theatre’s greatest living Renaissance man’. He founded a multidisciplinary production company (Ex Machina), wrote and directed Cirque du Soleil’s Totem and mounted (what was at the time) the largest outdoor architectural projection in the world.
To put it plainly, Lepage is no stranger to the kind of technical wizardry employed in The Far Side of the Moon. It is rare for Perth to attract a show of this calibre by one of the world’s greats, and it’s all thanks to Perth Festival.
The piece makes seamless simultaneous use of blackboards, video projections, puppetry and reflective surfaces. Mirrors are angled to great effect and projections are designed to transport us. A simple piece of chalk transforms a blackboard into an elevator. It’s pure magic to behold.
Who wouldn’t be impressed and captivated by the sheer mechanics and scale of the imaginative set? The show runs for 2 hours with no interval, but the pace at which the scenery changes effectively drives the action on stage. It seems Lepage has a thing for heavy sets, installing a 45 tonne set at the Metropolitan Opera for his Ring cycle in 2012.
This is a revelatory, ambitiously realised piece of theatre that is both poetic and profound. I will never look at a circular window or ironing board the same way again.
Check out the Wikipedia timeline of space exploration over here.