Playing Cards 1 : SPADES – Robert Lepage – The Roundhouse



The last play I saw by Robert Lepage (The Blue Dragon) I described as “theatrical perfection” . So my expectations were running high. I was especially intrigued by the idea of a series of plays based on the suits of cards, as I’ve been a professional conjurer for the last 10 years and I was keen to see a play drawing on my 52 friends for inspiration.

This series has been commissioned by the 360° Network ( a worldwide group of 360° theatrical spaces)  and so we are treated to a 360° viewing of the Lepage magic.

Yet despite all its technical wizardry and moments that did touch me, this play felt clunky and contrived on too many occasions. The anti-war characters felt bolted on rather than an organic part of the story.

360° version of a Vegas gaming room

2 characters/stories stood out for me; the gambling addict – his scene at Gamblers Anonymous was extremely powerful. As was the illegal immigrant house maid’s dilemma at needing to find a doctor.

Ironically these two scenes required no fancy staging, yet the rest of play is a dazzling whirligig of theatrical tricks and illusions, which for me detracted from the stories being told. A few musical numbers linked with Vegas /cards just didn’t work and to my mind were obviously added so the central stage area could be set. I expect better from the master of theatrical magic and segues.

Now a “bad” Lepage play is still better than other theatrical work out there. So if you’ve never seen any of Lepage’s work it’s worth going to see, just to see his style, but be aware this is nowhere near the pinnacles he can reach.

Maybe he’s finding his feet with the 360° concept. I look forward to the next suit in the pack and hope it relies less on the whistles and bells and keeps us connected via the humanity on stage.

At the end there were more technicians on stage being applauded than actors, therein lies the problem with this piece for me.

STARS : * *

Looking back at 2011

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For me 2011, has certainly been my busiest year theatrically. As I sit here with my Xmas Turkish Delight and box of choccy’s, what were my highlights?

  • Finally getting to see Robert Lepage was certainly a memorable occasion. His play The Blue Dragon I referred to as “Theatrical perfection”.

    Robert Lepage as Pierre Lamontagne

  • I saw my first Burlesque  show, which was certainly an eye opener!

    Mistress of Ceremonies

  • London Road at the National Theatre is certainly one of the highlights for me. An amazing piece of theatre.
  • The best new play of this year I think was The Acid Test by Anya Reiss.

Best new play of 2011

  • The best acting I saw this year was in The Seagull at the Arcola, especially Yolanda Kettle as Nina, who gets my “Best Actress Award”. Best Actor goes to Joseph Milson as Ben Stark in Rocket to the Moon at the National.

    Yolanda Kettle, best actress I saw in 2011, in The Seagull at the Arcola.

Joseph Milson, best actor I saw in 2011, in Rocket to the Moon

  • Crazy for You, was definitely the best musical I saw this year.

    The best legs in London!

  • Manon at the Royal Opera House, wins “best ballet” award.

    Manon left me speechless.

  • Best entertainment award would go to Strictly Gershwin. (so good I saw it twice and my wife saw it three times!)

    Dancing from the beautiful Rhapsody in Blue

  • Best theatre book of the year, without a doubt the publication of Volume 2 Samuel Beckett’s letters from 1941 – 1956, I’m still ploughing my way through them, but they’re one of the most rewarding things I’ve read in a long time.

So all in all a very good year theatrically for me.  Thanks to all my readers and I wish you all a very prosperous 2012.

Theatrical Perfection? – The Blue Dragon – The Barbican Theatre London – Review


Tai Wei Foo in The Blue Dragon

Why do I go to the theatre regularly? To be entertained? To be challenged? Because I’m a student of the art form? Yes to all of these but my primary aim is to be changed. A lofty aim no doubt, and to be honest it seldom happens, but every so often it does, and it’s the most incredible experience.

Since commencing my Theatre Studies back in 2005 there have been several seminal events in my theatrical life. One of which was hearing Robert Lepage lecture at my college in my first year of study. His passion, vision and clarity struck me, and following that lecture I researched more into his work, and his life.  I’ve been fortunate to see some of his work via video, but never live. The chance to see his new play and with him in it, made it top of my list for theatrical visits this year. I was also fortunate to see TOTEM also by Lepage this year and I found that an inspiring theatrical event.

So I booked this ticket solely on the fact that it was a Lepage play, but as I then read more about it, I became more and more intrigued. It focuses on Pierre Lamontagne, the character Lepage created for his Dragon’s Trilogy just over 25 years ago. We revisit this character in Shanghai and catch up with him and his life. Lepage plays Pierre, in what is one of the best portrayals I’ve seen on stage. Following this post recently a friend commented to me that, it’s great when you see a play and you forget the actor, and you become immersed in the world on stage and that character. Lepage was an object lesson in this, he WAS Pierre. Likewise Tai Wei Foo and Marie Michaud who played Xiao Ling and Claire respectively also created believable characters on stage. More than that though I cared for these characters and their decisions and their lives.

Tai Wei Foo as Xiao Ling and Marie Michaud as Claire

For me this was why this play was so special, it had heart and soul, and I felt part of their world as I could see it was a reflection of my own world. We live in a Globalised world now and Theatre is responding to that in various ways, one is to simply produce the same musicals everywhere – a Chinese version of Les Mis opened in 2008. More Cameron Mackintosh productions are to follow in China too. Whilst this is one way of reacting to the new world, I feel Lepage’s is more organic and more beneficial.  The Blue Dragon felt that each culture was respected and brought to the melting pot. That’s not to say only the good parts of each culture were displayed, far from it, the small-minded view of the Québécois that Pierre escaped from was shown as well as the harshness of life in China, but Lepage never went over to melodrama, his characters have to put up with problems like we all do, they got on, made decisions and lived with them. That is why this play resonated with me so much, it felt tangible and real, like few plays do. The speech of the play is in English, French and Mandarin (with subtitles) as and when required, rather than being confusing it simply helped to add to the realism and also the difference in speech tones and rhythms between the three languages was striking to hear.  As someone who works in a cosmopolitan city and work environment, different languages being spoken at anytime is not something that I’m unfamiliar with, again it’s part of being in the 21st Century Globalised world. One thing the play highlighted is something we’ve known for a long time, but was dramatically shown here, we’ll all be hearing more Mandarin in the future, more  than French and English perhaps?

Robert Lepage as Pierre Lamontagne

Lepage is known for his use of theatrical effects and this play is no different, but again, the effects, staging and lighting fit in seamlessly, and help to tell the story. This is theatre for a 21st century audience that isn’t afraid to use visual and cinematic ideas. The set gave me a feeling of “widescreen” and the clever staging utilised one aspect that theatre is especially suited to, that of working vertically whereas film is primarily a horizontal view, Lepage blended to the two genres and played to the strength of each.

I especially loved the tribute to Herge’s book The Blue Lotus in this play. As the programme states, for many (myself included) this book was probably the first time that many of us encountered China and the images Herge paints certainly have left their mark on generations of westerners.

A few subtle references are made to this throughout

It’s refreshing to go to the theatre and be surprised, challenged and inspired and all in the same night! That is how I felt having watched The Blue Dragon.  The playwright Eugene Ionesco talked about his work and the “two fundamental states of consciousness” between which he moved, “an awareness of evanescence and of solidity, of emptiness and too much presence, of the unreal transparency of the world and its opacity, of light and of thick darkness.” ( see his book Notes and Counter Notes) I got a sense of this last night, especially between the evanescent and solidity of the characters lives and of my own too, something that had been fairy cerebral until last night.

So to call this “Theatrical Perfection” is indeed a HUGE and outlandish claim, but for me, it was pretty close, something to aspire to and be inspired by.

We are Star Dust Hurtling Through Space -Cirque Du Soleil – TOTEM – Royal Albert Hall – Review


The circus is in town and so three thousand of us made the trip last night to the Big Top that is the Royal Albert Hall to witness their new production, TOTEM. As mentioned previously this was my first time seeing the Cirque Du Soleil live, despite the fact I’ve been aware and admired the Cirque Du Soleil’s work since the mid 90’s, when I saw a video of their Saltimbanco production.

Along with the CdS brand this production also has the added bonus of being written and directed by the creative visionary that is Robert Lepage.  So my expectations were running high.

The theme for this production as you can see from the picture above is the evolution of mankind, which is a fascinating and amazing story in and of itself, could it be told by jugglers, acrobats, clowns and other acts I wondered? As we took our seats, several of the cast were mingling and interacting with the audience, which as anyone that reads my blog regularly will know, I think is a really good thing. The ringmaster character had a wonderful top hat that contained a really powerful light which he used to spotlight the crowd and was visually striking and a very clever idea, that would be utilised in the show.

The lights dimmed and we were off on our journey. What follows is a two and a half hour spectacular, that is honestly hard to put into words, I’ll try, but they really won’t do justice to the visual, audio and theatrical display.

“TOTEM is about life. The life that drives us; fragile at birth yet strong by nature.” Guy Laliberte, founder of CdS says in the programme. As I witnessed what looked like the impossible I was caught up in joy and wonder that is human existence. ALL the acts are brilliant but for me the highlights were;

The Tsodikova Sisters

The Tsodikova sisters foot juggling, where they juggled what looked like cloaks, individually then between them, then with one of them balancing on the other. How they kept their own balance while keeping their cloaks spinning was incredible. The costumes and design took this to another level though, this was a visual recreating of the big bang, from which we all came , as the programme states, “Born of chaos…From the mineral depths, energy and beauty emerge.” This routine was both energetic and beautiful, as are the Tsodikova sisters!

Ante Ursic and his batons-du-diable


Ante Ursic did a passionte flamenco styled devil stick routine, with the poise and dynamism of a matador. One man, and three sticks kept us enthralled as they spun, flipped and defied gravity.

Greg Kennedy and his atoms in perpetual motion

Greg Kennedy played a scientist character throughout the show. Then in Act 2 he steps inside his laboratory and while the band accompany him by playing on the test tubes and pipes, he steps inside a giant conic vase and starts juggling balls that light up/change colour whilst whizzing around the cone. The scientist watching and manipulating the atoms was such a clever and innovative routine, and a theatrical vision I’ll remember forever.

See the world from new heights, and awaken to love

Rosalie Ducharme and Louis-David Simoneau, gave a beautifully trapeze routine, that was incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen. Throughout it showed the trials and exhilaration of love and romance. Now I know that’ll sound strange, a trapeze act show that?? YES! I was genuinely moved by it.

Don't try this at home, with a few planks and some mates.

Finally, the show closed with a Russian troupe of flyers. I’ve always wanted to see this feat performed live as I’d seen it on TV when I was a boy and literally my jaw fell open then. Seeing it live now had the same effect, as they leapt, spun and flew through the air and then landed on a thin plank. As Robert Lepage says in the programme, “Out natural curiosity calls us ever upwards – we seem possessed by the desire to fly.” Well these performers can fly.

The above simply scratches the surface, they are all accompanied by a fabulous score, stunning costumes and make up that adds to a total theatrical package. ALL of the performers are top of their game and the creative team with Lepage at the helm have created a piece of theatre that celebrates the amazing fact that we’ve come from star-dust, evolved and can do some pretty amazing things. It also leaves one filled with a passion and desire to see humankind move onwards and upwards.

I left the Royal Albert Hall filled with a buzz, joy and a greater appreciation for this crazy thing we call life. As we whizz through space, we are all part of this evolutionary journey, and will forever continue to be, as we return to the star-dust as it continues ever onwards.

Christmas has come early this year!

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Christmas has come early for me this year. My wife let me know what my Christmas present would be and I’m EXCEEDINGLY excited.

I have to wait until January 2011 but it will be well worth the wait – we’re off to see Cirque du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall.

I’ve only ever seen Cirque du Soleil on video before and so to see it live will be a fabulous experience. I’m particularly looking forward to this production as its theme is “A fascinating journey into the evolution of mankind” and it’ll be interesting to see how they weave that throughout the production.

Having done a bit more research on it since I found out we were going, I’m even more excited as the creator and director is none other than the genius that is Robert Lepage! I’m a huge admirer of his work and I was fortunate to attend a lecture by him at my college (Rose Bruford) a few years ago which was amazing. See here for a bit more info about his involvement with the production.

A review will follow on here, but I imagine the experience will be hard to put into words. As you can see from the trailer video:

Roll on January!