Monday, 6 August 2012

Lipsynch, Aug 4, 2012 ****1/2

By Ex Machina (Canada) & Théâtre Sans Frontières (UK)
Directed by Robert Lepage
State Theatre, Melbourne Arts Centre,  Aug 4 to 12, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **** 1/2

Online at Herald Sun on Mon Aug 6 and in print on Tues Aug 7

WHEN ROBERT LEPAGE'S SPRAWLING, THEATRICAL NARRATIVE, LIPSYNCH, begins aboard a plane from Germany to Montreal, the audience simultaneously embarks on a 9-hour, transcontinental, multi-lingual journey through the lives of nine characters.

During six acts, we are voyeurs peering into the intimate worlds of these loosely connected people, often literally observing them through windows and doors.

The transformational set design (Jean Hazel) constantly changes locations from a Lufthansa jet to a London train, a Nicaraguan cantina, 1940s Vienna, a film set, a BBC radio studio and a Hamburg brothel.

The backstage mechanics of the theatre are revealed, becoming part of the dramatic narrative as multiple, black-clad stagehands swiftly and magically manipulate the versatile design.

The main narrative stream concerns German opera singer, Ada Weber (Rebecca Blankenship), who discovers teenage prostitute, Lupe (Nuria Garcia), dead on her plane to Montreal with baby Jeremy (Rick Miller) crying in her arms.

Other characters’ stories branch off like tributaries, while some flow back to the main narrative and others remain incidental.

As in previous Lepage shows, elaborate video projections feature but, in Lipsynch, language and the human voice, both speaking and singing, are the primary focus for the performers as they delve into their characters’ emotional, psychological and physical lives.

Although the dialogue is not poetic or lyrical – in fact it is often banal – the gentle, storytelling style that verges on melodrama and soap opera, has its own lyricism and poignancy as well as often being hilarious.

Lipsynch is a morality tale with flawed, ordinary people whose failed relationships, losses and loves we witness as a passing parade until the final denouement about Lupe’s terrible fate tells us ‘whodunnit’.

The powerful abuse the vulnerable, the rich take advantage of the poor and men abandon women. But at the heart of the story is the earth mother, Ada, who not only rescues Jeremy from his dead mother’s arms, but also salvages Lupe’s heritage and reputation.

The great successes of this production are the fascinating, cunningly directed opening scenes and the poignant, final scenes that end with a heartbreaking, closing image that replicates Michelangelo’s Pieta. 

The audience is engaged, amused or touched by other scenes but they are diversions, detours from the main narrative that are less satisfying than Ada, Jeremy and Lupe’s stories.

All the performances are masterly, with each actor not only playing a key character but also playing smaller roles and singing.

Blankenship’s Ada provides a warm, still heart to the story and her velvety soprano fills the space with its pure tones.

Hans Piesbergen plays cool German neurosurgeon, Thomas, but also provides multiple, comical cameos, while Sarah Kemp is the damaged and powerless Sarah, a former Manchester prostitute.

Miller is suitably smug as young Jeremy, the aspiring filmmaker, and also as Tony Briggs, the smarmy BBC newsreader.

Nuria Garcia is riveting as the naïve Lupe, confused Spanish actress Maria and as Simon, the childlike diabled boy and John Cobb is sympathetic as scruffy, Scottish detective, Jackson.

As ambitious singer, Marie, Frederike Bedard sings some rich Jazz numbers before facing losing her voice.

Carlos Belda is the sturdy, stable sound recordist, Sebastian, who confronts his past when he returns to the Canary Islands to bury his comedian father, and Lise Castonguay is Michelle, the fragile bookseller who scrambles to overcome her mental illness.

It may take 9 hours, but the journey is somehow soothing and satisfying as we make friends with these people who are simply trying to make sense of their world, just as we do.

By Kate Herbert

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