Innovative theatrical legend Robert Lepage is one of those few multi-talented sub-species that seem to be able to do anything they set their mind to. A world-wide renowned writer, director, designer and performer he’s shaped the international stage in everything from theatre to opera, film and virtual reality. Returning to the Barbican this summer he offers a rare opportunity for a glimpse into this creative wonder – a one-man visually enriching show, perhaps his most private and autobiographical to date. With Ex Machina’s 887 at the Barbican he shares the history of his home in Québec, that has shaped him as an artist, and why it is so important to remember where you’re from.
887 explores how memories are formed and how they shape our identity. Lepage invites us into his childhood, with an enormous dolls house depicting the overcrowded apartment block 887 Avenue Murray he grew up in. We follow the lives of 887 with imaginative back projection through the windows of each flat, as props drive onstage by themselves, Lepage creates live films with his iPhone, and the set transforms into a scale model of his kitchen in Québec. This is above all a mastery in storytelling – as Lepage takes us through his relationship with his absent taxi-driver father, the people of 887 and the political climate of 1960s Canada, he transforms the staging in ways that are incredibly stimulating as well as strikingly beautiful. The apartment block spins and becomes his modern-day flat for rehearsing the poem Speak White by Michèle Lalonde – the climax of the evening. A pair of boots and a camera becomes an unpleasant encounter in the street.
887 is not just a personal anecdote nor a quest to remember his own past and why the different pieces of the puzzle has shaped him into the artist he is today. It’s not just a journey to alter his pre-written obituary and define what his impact on the community has been. It’s the celebration of memory itself, a multi-media exploration of the human experience and how a community – from every part of society – shapes its inhabitants. Merging with the history of Québec it becomes a love letter to a vibrant city – and though we might find other matters more urgent in today’s world, 887 does show how important it is to allow your own history and the history of your community a reflection. As the master of stage-craft Lepage takes us through the wonder of memory with a beautiful delicacy and wit, transforming the imagination of his audience through an earnest performance and exceptionally clever design. Food for theatre-lovers.
887 is playing at the Barbican until June 10.