Photos - Erick Labbe
Lipsynch, playing as part of the Sydney Festival, is really like nothing else you've seen before.
The production is staged in partnership with director Robert Lepage's Quebec-based company Ex Machina and the UK-based theatre touring theatre company Theatre Sans Frontieres, which works with actors from around the world to stage international theatre in its original language.
Lepage states that the company usually focuses on storytelling through image, movement, and music, with voice being "rather an afterthought". In this production instead the company has focussed on exploring voice, speech, and language – human sound in its many forms. The work looks at a spectrum of characters that work with the human voice and its capabilities: anything from opera, speech therapy, spoken word poetry, rap, voice over recording, radio newsreading, foley, canned laughter, answering machines, speaker phones, voice analysis for the purposes of crime investigation, documentary, and it goes on. A number of languages are spoken by the performers throughout the work as well, as actors spring back and forth from English, to French, to Spanish, to German, to Portugeuse, sometimes with subtitles, and sometimes, as we start to learn, the subtitles are just not needed. It's the sound, the colour, the emotion in the voice that's key.
At around 8.5 hours, the work asks a great deal of commitment and concentration from the audience. But far from being a gruelling, difficult experience, the performance moves through a series of shorter intertwining narratives, each compelling and beautiful in their own way, that gradually nurture and develop one central thread of story. Funnily enough, the experience is comparable in some ways to settling down at home to devour an entire series of a much-loved television show on box-set DVD, gobbling down hour upon hour of episodic narrative that slowly builds to an overarching idea. And, in the same way, you can get up and stretch your legs every forty minutes or so and help yourself to a cup of tea, except the Theatre Royal is your kitchen and your living room couch is a plush velvet seat.
The work is understated, warmly humorous, and ultimately very moving. It was striking to witness many audience members who didn't know each other routinely striking up conversations about the performance throughout the several interval breaks. People seemed to feel unguarded and welcoming of others, a community rather than an audience of strangers, and this was further revealed at the end of the performance when the cast and crew received an emotional standing ovation from the entire auditorium.
The show has been devised and has continued to be shaped and moulded throughout its European tour. From its first public showing, timed at 5.5hours, Lepage has added scenes and further developed certain narratives. The story we are told is in itself a worthwhile experience, but it is also interesting to see the result of what is a unique experimental process of theatre-making. The final script is a result of a collaborative effort between cast and director.
A work of gentle, heartfelt storytelling, combining easy humour and high poetry, Lipsynch is just, well, really pretty fantastic.
Sydney Festival presents
Directed by Robert Lepage
Venue: Theatre Royal
Dates/Times: January 11–12, 15, 17–18 at 1pm
Duration: 8hrs 35mins, including 5 intervals (with a 45min dinner break)
Tickets: $140 - $100
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 888 412