Review: The Far Side of the Moon

The Far Side of the Moon is melancholy, funny and imaginative theatre that asks its audience to look to the stars as well as ponder the universe within.

It’s a testament to The Far Side of the Moon’s smart writing and inventive staging that this production, which first premiered in 2000, still feels fresh in 2017. Robert Lepage’s meditation on ambition, introspection and the world beyond our solar system remains an engaging piece of theatre, with plenty of technical tricks up its sleeve.

The Far Side of the Moon follows two estranged brothers, Phillipe and Andre, and subtly contrasts their relationship against the 20th century’s Space Race between the USSR and the USA. The parallels between these competing brothers and superpowers are there to be drawn: Philippe is an academic and has an affinity for poetry, the wonders of space and Russian cosmonauts, while Andre has “made it” as a weatherman, enjoys a flashy lifestyle and isn’t afraid to speak loudly about his achievements.

Yet this is no Cain and Abel allegory. Rather, The Far Side of the Moon casts its net wider to ponder the nature of life in the fishbowl that Earth can be, and examine the ambition (or narcissism) of our desire to make it to the moon and beyond the planet.  Very clever staging and design allow Lepage’s production to examine these themes in detail.

Archival footage of Soviet and American scientists and astronauts is frequently projected on a set of shifting panels. Sometimes elevator doors, sometimes chalkboards, sometimes washing machines or space-ship hatches, these panels are frequently employed to communicate the banality of life on Earth, but just as often explore the wondrous potential of human imagination.

Essentially a one-man show, with Yves Jacques performing all of the speaking roles with keen variation, it avoids any kind of overt caricature. He slips between the brothers Philippe and Andre, their mother, a doctor and others with great relatability and poise. But, strong credit must go to the small army of technical staff who work in the shadows to bring the puppetry, projection and panel shifting to life all around Jacques. Likewise, composer Laurie Anderson’s varied and stirring soundtrack frequently impresses, and gels the speedily shifting, sometimes very different scenes together with aplomb.

In the end, it is the production’s strong mix of humour and melancholy aspiration along with vivid imagery that make The Far Side of the Moon highly compelling theatre. The production is long, running at two-and-a-quarter hours with no interval, but all trips to outer space take time, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

The Far Side of the Moon was performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Sunday, March 4, and continues until March 7.

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