The Andersen Project

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

19/03/2009 - 22/03/2009

Auckland Festival 2009

Production Details

Hailed as a masterpiece wherever it has been performed, The Andersen Project, by legendary theatrical auteur Robert Lepage will be one of the Festival’s most sought-after events.

Dubbed the most exciting theatrical practitioner of our times, Lepage is both celebrated by theatre junkies, and known for making, as Peter Gabriel famously said, ‘theatre for people who don’t like theatre.’

In The Andersen Project, Lepage directs Yves Jacques (known to New Zealand audiences for his work in The Far Side of the Moon) in a modern fairytale created for the 200th anniversary of Hans Christian Andersen’s birth.

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, THE EDGE,
Thu 19 – Sun 22 March, Tickets: $45 – $85
Bookings: THE EDGE Ticketing Service 09 357 3355

Tangible, rich, accessible and inspirational

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 20th Mar 2009

A multi-media masterpiece written and directed by Canada’s eminent theatre artist/playwright/director, Robert Lepage, The Andersen Project is an absolute must-see for anyone who loves world-class technical innovation merged with classic story telling.

Lepage was invited by the Hans Christian Andersen 2005 Foundation to commemorate Denmark’s most famous writer. But far from creating a standard bio-play concentrating on his famous tales for children (The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes etc), Lepage requested permission to be freely inspired by Andersen’s private journals and darker side, plus his lesser known tales, The Dryad and The Shadow.

Consequently, Lepage’s ground-breaking multidisciplinary production company, Ex Machina, created this solo play, which has unsurprisingly enjoyed wide-spread success, and currently stars award winning Canadian actor Yves Jacques.

Lepage et al (script collaborators Peder Bjurman and Marie Gignac) ingeniously weave H.C. Andersen’s narrative plus his personal history, in and around their modern creation, the tale of Frederic, a Canadian pop/rock lyricist. The director of Opera Bastille invites Frederic to Paris, to write the libretto for an opera inspired by H. C. Anderson’s The Dryad, for a trans-continental collaborative project.

But as we journey between the tales of new and old; from the immaculate and recently renovated façade of a Paris opera house to some of the city’s seedy shadows; from The Dryad’s peaceful rural existence to the bustle of the Paris Great Exhibition of the 1800’s; from depicting H.C. Anderson’s own experiences; all Lepage’s characters grapple with parallel levels of disconnect and isolation, plus sexual and general frustration. All look for love, happiness and fulfillment in some interesting unexpected places.

Along the way, Lepage exposes the brutal drive of money over art, perception over substance, power breakfasts over stage delivery, as the business arm of the director, guided by an abundance of producers, politely shafts the poor artist. No wonder we learn that most of Paris is on strike.

Ex Machina’s skillful layers of story-telling, as each character’s search for satisfaction from new experiences leads to a yearning for what has been lost, is uniformly gripping in substance and presentation. Ex Machina never misses a beat. Sometimes the switch between scenes is so stunning, it is hard to fathom how the technical team (directed by Serge Cote) have physically achieved it. Several times Jacques appears to literally step into a huge projection screen.

The production values are uniformly world-class. An extra row of speakers hung mid stage gives Sound Designer Jean-Sebastian Cote extra grunt, which he makes full use of when Lepage throws an unforgettable fun-filled ecstasy-driven train-trip dance sequence to the beat of Sarah McLachlan’s Sweet Surrender, into the mix.

Ex Machina has a refreshingly inclusive approach to presenting theatre and art forms: Graffiti art is created, and then tagged over moments later. The integration of screen imagery is dynamic (image production by Jacques Collin, Veronique Couturier and David Leclerc).  Puppetry is celebrated and adds a highly entertaining element to the night (skilful Puppeteer Normand Porier must be a dog-lover to create such believable leash movement). Finally, props (Marie-France Lariviere) costume (Catherine Higgins), lighting (Nicolas Marois) and set design (Jean Le Bourdais) are all exquisite.

Yves Jacques marathon performance, playing so many diverse characters, is a pleasure to watch and listen to. A hugely versatile artist, he is in total command of the stage and Lepage’s multi-layered vision at every twist and turn, delivering an intelligent, entertaining yet enriching performance. My favourite scene is Frederic’s brilliant (eventual) confession to the dog psychologist.

I’ve really only scratched the surface of what Lepage’s 2-hour inventive visual symphony and enlightening tales have to offer. If you’ve only budgeted for one more festival show, or even if you have never seen live theatre on a large scale, this is the one to pick. It is tangible, rich, accessible and inspirational. You will not regret the investment. 


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