THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON - ADELAIDE FESTIVAL
THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON, Adelaide Festival at Her Majesty’s Theatre, 2-7 March 2018. Photography by Shane Reid: above and below - Yves Jacques
When this one-man show of puppets and puppeteer (Eric Leblanc), video mash-ups, complex staging, an ironing board, a goldfish, unseen stage hands and sound operators was first seen at the Sydney Festival at the turn of the century it was a dazzling tour de force. Almost twenty years later, it’s still on the road for its creator, Robert Lepage, one of Canada’s iconic exports.
Twenty years is a long time in technology and contemporary arts, however, and The Far Side of the Moon is now a clunky museum piece that anyone but a revered auteur would have either put out to grass or trimmed to 90 minutes, rather than its actual running time of just under two hours. (Mercifully not the two hours 15 minutes, no interval, as advertised.)
Performed by the remarkable Yves Jacques, with a soundtrack composed by Laurie Anderson, The Far Side of the Moon is the story of Philippe, a student of philosophy and his younger brother André, a star TV weatherman. Their mother has recently died and as usual it’s fallen to Philippe to look after everything because successful André is too busy.
Philippe’s thesis – that he’s invited to a Moscow conference to promote – is that the original space race between the USA and the USSR was all about narcissism, rather than curiosity. News footage from the various rocket launches and landings are interspersed with Philippe’s daily grind.
Famously, the set is very much part of the show with a mirrored rig lowered and raised and tilted to become all manner of visual effects. The staging is further enclosed by a back wall of sliding panels that in their turn reveal or conceal and represent all manner of locations. One focus is a laundromat’s circular washing machine window. It takes on a comical life of its own as a porthole, a goldfish bowl, a clock and the moon.
The Saturday evening Festival audience at Her Majesty’s was attentive and interested, although by the hour-and-three-quarters mark, shuffling and fidgeting broke out and began to turn the auditorium into a den of susurration. When Jacques took a space walk through sleight of mirrored trickery, it was a sequence of theatrical magic that stilled the restless. But, as with so much of this show, it went on way too long and was then repeated.
The Far Side of the Moon is still charming in its characterisations and interwoven story lines. Its “technology” and visible panty lines are part of that chucklesome allure – even more so now that twenty years of CGI sophistication has made extraordinary worlds and imaginings commonplace. Nevertheless, it seems to go on almost as long as Yuri Gagarin’s actual historic space flight although a droll explanation of the difference between a cosmonaut and an astronaut is typical of its mix of whimsy and information. To be experienced once, perhaps.