THE BLUE DRAGON
by Marie Michaud and Robert Lepage English translation by Michael Mackenzie.
Barbican Theatre Silk Street EC2Y 8DS To 26 February 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat 26 Feb 2pm.
Runs 1hr 55min No interval.
TICKETS: 0845 120 7550.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 February.
Lives writ large in imaginative stage language.
Eleven people take the stage for the third bow after Robert Lepage’s latest Ex Machina show. There were only three for the first two. And while it’s true most shows have a number of unseen people backstage, the 3:8 proportion of actors and stage-staff seems right for this large-scale piece about close and personal relations.
That’s because, a quarter-century after Lepage hit international theatre consciousness with his magnificent Dragons Trilogy, his is still a centrifugal theatre, its staged events resonating with wider issues. This ‘spin-off’, as Lepage calls it, from the Trilogy incorporates in every element of its presentation the idea of West and East meeting in a fast-travel (the action’s framed by airport scenes), culturally exploratory age.
That exploration’s evident in a prologue where Trilogy character Pierre Lamontagne (played by Lepage with calm deliberation – it’s technology, rather than acting, that brings the fireworks in his productions) quietly explains the subtlety of Chinese calligraphy, as the characters he draws appear on screens.
People in The Dragons Trilogy talked about China. Pierre has now established an art-business there. When his Canadian wife Claire arrives looking to adopt a child (it fails; in a culturally suggestive clash the baby won’t take to her) she finds young artist Xiao Ling installed in her place.
Even Pierre’s home is conditioned by Chinese politics. In once-louche Shanghai his apartment has the space-limits Communism imposed, its small rooms often compartmentalised to show lives going separately on. And now it’s under threat from modern China’s commercial development; a force that displaces multitudes as ruthlessly as Maoist diktat.
The East/West point is repeatedly made visually – an apparent Chinese martial epic turns out a burger-ad, while Xiao Ling is found painting multiple Van Gogh copies for an international mass-market.
Amidst this, personal tensions and characters themselves can seem incidental (Lepage leaves options open about ultimate relationships). Often, people are defined through the originality of theatrical invention, expressing, for example, the unease between Pierre and Claire through a jump-cut effect that shifts them surprisingly around the two-tier home. For it’s in the big picture that The Blue Dragon breathes fire.
Pierre Lamontagne: Robert Lepage.
Claire Foret: Marie Michaud.
Xiao Ling: Tai Wei Foo.
Director: Robert Lepage.
Designer: Michel Gauthier.
Lighting: Louis-Xavier Gagnon-Lebrun.
Sound: Jean-Sebastien Côté.
Projections: David Leclerc.
Choreographer: Tai Wei Foo.
Costume: François St-Aubin.