Royal National Theatre (Cottesloe), London SE1
Opened 30 April, 1992

Québecois Canadian Robert Lepage's phenomenal sensitivity both to the mechanical possibilities and the evocative emotional potential of theatre continues to leave one awestruck. His vision, at once oddly alien and profoundly human, is the theatrical equivalent of Martian poetry. In this show he interweaves fibres of Miles Davis's stay in Paris in 1949, Jean Cocteau's almost simultaneous trip to America, both men's relationship with the fruit of the poppy and narrator Lepage's own emotional turbulence in Paris four decades later, in Jean-Paul Sartre's old hotel room.

The tapestry includes live and recorded music, a flying harness – he spends much of the time, as Cocteau, in mid-air between two rotating propellors  and a variety of projection techniques; the virtuoso vertigo sequences are the attention-grabbers, but the four-minute heroin episode in particular embodies a simple, striking eloquence. The solo format (although it's far from a one-man show in its realisation) fascinatingly lays bare the panoramic range of form and device that Lepage draws on in his larger pieces – techniques which don't supplant theatricality, but heighten it thrillingly. Robert Lepage may be the first extraterrestrial artistic director of a national theatre, and we need more encounters of this brilliant kind.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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