The Far Side of the Moon is out of this world

The Far Side of The Moon is a Canadian one-man show by Robert Lepage and performed by Yves Jacques – currently at ASB Theatre until 25 March for Auckland Arts Festival. Following the opening night last night, its originality and theatrical wonder had me grinning to the moon and back.

The somewhat hypnotic performance begins with a giant mirror that is the full width of the stage reflecting the audience back at themselves while Jacques recites his introductory monologue, “Before Galileo turned his telescope towards its surface, people believed the moon was a polished mirror”. And this is how we meet Phillipe, a man in search of something more with a yearning to understand the universe and the mysteries held up there in the stars. We soon learn that this is a tale of two brothers, Phillipe and his estranged brother Andre, who are brought back into each other’s lives following the death of their mother. This brings about a reflection on their childhood and as well as their lives today but the imaginative storytelling sets us amongst the backdrop of Russian and American space race of the 60’s and 70’s. The brothers are worlds apart, Phillipe a hapless academic desperately defending his thesis on the effect of space travel on popular culture and Andre is an eccentric and extraverted TV weatherman. Today Phillipe is pining for another life, another experience a space odyssey to call his own and once he lets his imagination run wild it’s to the delight of everyone who’s watching.

Yves Jacques is absolutely genius in his portrayal of both brothers as well additional characters when needed. It is truly amazing that he does this as a one-man show and he’s flawless in his scene and character transitions. The dialogue is realistic and is delivered with wit and charisma. Overall, the script is very funny and becomes more so the better we get to know Phillipe in particular. His freedom of thought allows for a dreamlike and fantasy element to leak throughout the whole performance and it’s magical in every way. The main prop throughout the 120mins is an ironing board which Jacques flips around to become everything from an exercise bike to an MRI scanner. This both keeps the set simple and give the audience amusement at what this everyday item might become next.

Aside from Jacques excellent stage presence, he is occasional joined on stage by small spacemen puppets who encapsulate the magic of the show with every perfectly precise movement. The first appearance is subtle but lights up a tingle in the audience that we will be seeing something special and that we are allowed to float evermore deeply into this world. Each wonderful appearance of these wee space guys is a theatrical gift right down to their placement of the stars and stripes on the moon itself.

The staging is just as magical as the performance. The mostly black stage uses sliding doors, projections, chalk and a washing machine door to take us to various locations and times. Space race TV coverage rolls on the walls while we transition through the years and muse the events of this human space exploration.

The play is also unusually cinematic in its presentation from its use of historical space race footage down to its widescreen display of the set. Then there’s Laurie Anderson’s enchanting score that helps to transport us to wherever we belong in the cosmos. This original music really adds a premium to an already fairly immersive experience. This is also aided by the darkness within the theatre through almost all of the show and the lack of any interval during its 2-hour duration – any break would have spoilt the momentum of the alternative world that we had slowly but willing become part of.

The Far Side of the Moon is an out of this world warm, witty and human centred story creatively told on a cinematic scale to provide a unique theatrical experience. It’s a total delight to all the senses. Catch it while you can at ASB Theatre during Auckland Arts Festival until 25 March.

Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.

Photo credit: Sophie Grenier