Lepage sets new standards

Well, it didn’t feel like a marathon. In fact, I think the intervals were longer than the show, and just as enjoyable. But the more yesterday’s Robert Lepage’s nine-act saga Lipsynch at the Barbican sinks in, the more I’m convinced it’s a masterpiece.

Its merits are both spiritual and technical, story and staging combined in a kind of pure theatrical magic that mixes the best of Complicite with the wit and pungency of Francois Truffaut and Singin’ in the Rain. Only much darker and hipper.

As usual when a foreign maestro hits town, the British theatre community goes along to applaud and gawp in equal measure. My immediate confreres in the auditorium included actors Philip Franks, Marti Cruickshank and new star Tom Mison (Mr Bingley in Lost in Austen on television, and currently a fine George Tesman at the Gate) and director David Freeman.

Lepage himself joined his actors on stage at the end, along with the phalanx of stage-hands whose manoevrings of scenery that is something of an architectural marvel — a steel framework of mobile structures encompasses aeroplanes, tube trains, cars, restaurants, film sets and recording studios — is not least among the evening’s sensual pleasures.

The Press corps were kept going with hot drinks and biscuits and a very acceptable buffet supper of ghoulash and fresh salmon, while paying punters camped out in the foyers with their flasks, fruit and sandwiches.

These all-day events become ingrained in one’s theatre-going history, and Marti Cruickshank and I reminisced briefly on the RSC history play cycles, marathons like Peter Brook’s Mahabharata and the demands of the World Theatre Season in the old RSC days at the Aldwych.

Irving Wardle used to jokingly say that he waited for Peter Daubeny to announce the World Theatre Season, then he’d book his holiday. But that residual native resistance to “foreign” theatre has been utterly eroded over the years by producers like Thelma Holt and LIFT, Michael Morris (who has cooperated with Lepage for over twenty years) and now Graham Sheffield and Louise Jeffreys at the Barbican.

Bite at the Barbican has been an invaluable curtain on the best and latest in world theatre for so long now we are in danger of taking it for granted. But a masterpiece like Lipsynch should make us more keenly appreciate what we have on our doorstep.     

Nine actors, nine acts, nine hours. And then the excitement for the day wasn’t nearly over. Things were hotting up in New York, where Andy Murray was pushing even Rafa Nadel to the limit in order to reach the final of the US Open tennis championship.

It was stirring stuff, and made you proud to be British, even if Murray is Scottish and a bit of a wuss. But as the contest was not screened on terrestrial television, the great majority of aspirant young tennis players could not have watched it.

Let’s just hope that as many as possible of our new young theatre-makers get along to the Barbican this week in order to juggle their own achievements into some sort of perspective and find new sources of inspiration and imagination. 

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