Friday, 21 October 2016

887 by Robert Lepage, Oct 20, 2016 *****

By Robert Lepage, Ex Machina, Melbourne Festival
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Oct 22, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri Oct 21, 2016, and later in print. KH
Robert Lepage in 887.

Remarkable. Robert Lepage’s solo show, 887, is simply remarkable.

In this inspired and mesmerising production that illuminates memory in startling ways, Lepage seamlessly blends personal storytelling about his childhood in Quebec City in the 1960s, with the political struggles of French-speaking Canadians during that period.

He delivers it all as a hypnotic and luminous, visual feast that transforms the stage and transports the viewer to another time and place that is 887 Avenue Murray, the apartment block in which the pre-adolescent Lepage lived with his family in Quebec City.

Lepage addresses the audience directly and with ease as he narrates this autobiographical epic, beginning the show with an unembellished, conversational chat on a dark and empty stage that slowly metamorphoses as he introduces the residents of 887 Avenue Murray who appear as if by magic as tiny people in their miniature apartments.

Lepage is our gentle guide as he plunders his own memory, describing in compelling detail his father, mother, siblings and grandmother and every other family in the building at 887, including the classical pianist, the Irish Catholics, the belligerent family across the hall and the unfaithful wife in the flat above.

As Lepage navigates his path through these vivid, intimate recollections of his childhood, he interweaves glimpses, commentaries and video fragments of the fraught political and class battle that fractured 1960s Quebec.

At the centre of Lepage’s political commentary is the provocative, 1968 poem, Speak White, by Quebecois poet, Michèle Lalonde, a difficult, 3-page piece that Lepage must memorise and perform, and that challenges his adult memory and confronts his views of the oppression of culture, race and language by jingoistic, English-speaking groups.
The set design (Steve Blanchet) is staggering in its complexity and flexibility as Lepage, like a magician, opens and closes myriad doors and panels to reveal each new and intricate location: buildings, apartment interiors, kitchen, library, a bar and his father’s taxi in both full size and miniature.

Large and small video monitors embedded in the set display subtle or astounding imagery (Félix Fradet-Faguy), while the stage is tinted with atmospheric and evocative lighting (Laurent Routhier).

Although he ranges across time and issues, 887 feels like Lepage’s homage to his beleaguered and humble father, a handsome, Quebecois man who came from poverty, married and laboured as a taxi-driver to support his family.

The most poignant moments in the narrative are the scenes when Lepage as a child waits for his exhausted father to return home at night, and the final scene when the child comforts his grieving father who sits in his taxi, mourning his own mother’s death.

This theatrical experience with Robert Lepage will leave you gaping at its virtuosity and intimacy, its visual lushness and elegant simplicity. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket immediately.

By Kate Herbert 


  1. I can't get enough of Le Page. 887 is a tour de force. Great to read your review, Kate, and be reminded of the majesty and poignancy of this show - more of an 'event' or a 'happening' than a walk in, walk out show. Theatre spreading its roots like a willow

  2. It's great to be reminded of the extraordinary and profound moments in 887. Lepage is a tour de force, a theatrical treat and a creates a happening in the true sense of the word.