Quickly! Go, go, don’t waste a minute. Pick up your phone straight away to get a ticket for maybe the most astonishing, wonderful show you’ll ever see. It’s called The Far Side of the Moon. I beg you not to miss it and it’s only on until the 7th March. You must go, for how else can you understand what people are babbling about after seeing this sensational play. As the audience poured out of Her Majesty’s Theatre that’s what it was – a babble of voices, energetic, excited, joyous, noisy voices with “I loved it”, “Wonderful” and “How did they do it?” knowing that for as long as memory lasts they will not forget the opening night of this Adelaide Festival show.
Let me tell you how it was but, bear in mind that I can’t adequately describe the experience. The words you should hear come from the author (Robert Lepage) and one man performer, Yves Jacques. Robert Lepage also directs the show and about 30 other people are listed on the programme as having contributed or are actually there. Robert Lepage’s Canadian company, Ex Machina is a multidisciplinary mix of actors, writers, set designers, technicians, opera singers, puppeteers, computer graphic designers, video artists, contortionists and musicians. Given the remarkable feats that happen you’d think there must be magicians too.
Encapsulated in the opening moments is everything we need to know about what is to unfold – the moon and what I first thought were two men on stage. It is Phillipe, the superb Yves Jacques, reflected in a giant mirror. There’s a port hole, so where is he? On board a cruiser, a space ship, a plane? Actually it’s a laundrette and he’s waiting for his Mum’s clothes to finish the cycle. She’s died and he’s washing her things before handing them over to an op shop. It’s the same washing machine that later gives birth to a baby complete with its placenta. Maybe it’s the one that turns into a baby astronaut. Who knows? And what’s Phillipe doing in there, in the washing machine? This show is full of the most amazing technological wonders which has the audience audibly gasping and agog with what could possibly happen next and for the tale to unfold. Real film taken at the time takes us into the space race between Russia and America from 1957 and the Sputnik through to “The eagle has landed” and the heady excitement of the landing on the moon in 1969, the probe scuttling crab-like over its rocky surface and someone singing “I was walking on the moon one day, In the merry, merry month of May”.
There’s such elation on the Plains of Abraham where Phillipe was in a park in the middle of Quebec City at the time. The moon was red, as if it were bleeding he says. He sympathises with Russian Alexei Leonov, the first man to space walk who would have been the first man to walk on the moon if not pipped at the post by Neil Armstrong. As a part-time university lecturer, Phillipe says that it was not curiosity, something he greatly values, but narcissism that led to that incredible giant step for mankind. He talks of the gradual loss of interest in further exploration of the moon – but not by him. He has a plan by which we can get to the moon without the aid of a rocket and, if there is life on the moon, it can get to earth. It’s a giant road, a stairway to heaven, you might say. It is said that earth is the cradle of man, he says, but man should not spend all his life in a cradle. But what if visitors from the moon come here first? So this gentle, charming, lonely, clever dreamer prepares a video for them so that things aren’t too much of a shock when they get here. He’s apologetic and asks them, “How can you deal with all this absurdity when you’ve been up there?”
In the meantime, in his small rented apartment he’s talking with his brother on the phone about cleaning up their mother’s place. There’s the matter of Beethoven, her goldfish. Phillipe has to go to Moscow to give a lecture and asks his brother to look after it while he’s gone. “You’re allergic to fish? But you don’t have to eat it, just feed it!” He does the ironing and you’ll never believe until you see it to what amazing uses an ironing board can be put. He smokes – strange to see that on stage these days. There are puppets and giant kaleidoscopes and he’s on the plane, never having been on one before. He’s his brother, his mother’s favourite, the smooth operator, the wealthy man. He’s his mother. “The Moonlight Sonata” plays for Beethoven. He works on his project to go into the void to the far side of the moon. For two and a quarter hours, Yves Jacques is on a stage peopled by him. The end is astonishing.
It is a remarkable play, performed by a truly remarkable actor. It is a sad, funny, astonishing, brilliant, interesting, thought-provoking and utterly energizing play. I feel excited about that show and can’t stop going on about it – and, you know, like the rest of the audience, I loved it.
Ex Machina presents
The Far Side of the Moon
by Robert Lepage
Director Robert Lepage
Venue: Her Majesty's Theatre | Grote Street, Adelaide
Dates: 2 – 07 March 2018
Tickets: $35 – $99
Bookings: 131246 | adelaidefestival.com.au