One For Robert or Five Go Mad at the Barbican

A few months back, in the wee hours of the morning, sitting drunkenly at Mum’s dining table checking emails one night during the NZ Comedy Festival in Wellington, I received my regular email/advertisement from the Barbican about their upcoming Bite season. Usually the email gets sent to the bin, but for some reason (well, I know precisely what reason but I don’t want to get in trouble, again) I wanted to see what the world outside of Wellington held for me … and lo and behold, it was a new 9 hour work from Robert Lepage and his company Ex Machina.

Now first things first, I am NOT a fan of Lepage … I don’t hate the his work (I was bored by The Dragons Trilogy, which is far worse than hating it), I’m just not adoring of his work – all style, no content, all show and shoddy script.

But a nine hour show is too much for even me to resist (what? I sat through the 3 parts of Henry VI and Richard III in one weekend last year – I even timed the start of my visa in the UK to make sure I didn’t miss it!), so I booked the second cheapest seat I could find in the last weekend, boasted to poor Robert about it and marked it in my calendar before shuffling off to a drunken slumber.

When I arrived in the UK, I told every Victoria University theatre and film grad that I knew what I was planning and soon they booked tickets on the same day to join me – my friend James Hadley can give you more details about the show from his column, here.

The most important thing, was to keep fed and hydrated, so bossy lass that I am, I made the call that we would be doing a shared picnic. Thankfully they still haven’t figured out how to stand up to me, so dutifully arrived with all manner of goodies to keep us through the day (kudos to Beccs for bringing dolmades and a thermos of hot water to make tea). How smug were we when everyone on the water terrace went past us eyeing our delicious spread while they had to be content with sandwiches from at cardboard box that they had just queued 12 minutes for and now had 3 minutes to scoff before heading back inside for the next act?

That was a fantastic bit of planning – the intervals. We probably didn’t sit in the auditorium for anything longer than 90 minutes and so the whole day passed by quite quickly and, unlike the second Henriad, we didn’t come out feeling completely shattered.

Five, surprisingly sprightly, after nine hours in the Barbican ...

Five, surprisingly sprightly, after nine hours in the Barbican ...

Also good was the set. Oh how I loved the set! I loved it so much, I came out of the show wanting to learn how to weld and join so I can make me a set like that – multifunctional, metal, sliding panels and wheels. Better still, there wasn’t any masking of the stage, stage crew and everything in the wings were visible – most of the scene changes were mini performance pieces in their own right although sometimes the actual props were in themselves a bit gimmicky.

Which brings me to the script itself – *sigh* maybe they should try a silent play? You know, the sort without words. Admittedly that would just leave them with plot, but then with only one thing to concentrate on they may make a better go of it than usual. That’s the thing that frustrates me with all of Lepage’s work – it’s beautiful, the stage craft is always stunning but it is always, always, always let down by the dramaturgy (plot construction, character narrative, story arc etc.). He / they get too caught up in the playing, images and ideas to lay out solid through lines and interweave stories as tight as a company of that stature and experience should be … and that is why I won’t be converted to the temple of Lepage as I have been to Peter Brook.

Bloody good final image, though.

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