23 August 2012

Review: Lipsynch

Lipsynch
Arts Centre Melbourne, Ex Machnia and Théâtre Sans Frontières
4 August 2012
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne



Critics criticise because theatre this exquisite exists.

Robert LePage's Lipsynch asks for nine hours of your time, but there's no need to be scared. Unlike watching a box set or spending a day at work, there are intervals with time to talk with friends and strangers and to share a comradery that only those who were there will understand.

As Gorecki's harrowing "Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs" echos from a soprano's lone performance, a young woman is found dead in her plane seat, still holding her crying baby. What follows explores nine lives whose stories are explicitly or implicitly affected by this heart-breaking cry. Told in multiple languages, over many years and countries, some links feel tenuous, especially as false clues are planted, but as the ninth hour approaches, they come together with a mix of surprise and inevitability that demands complicity in its heartbreak and heals with its beauty.

Contrasting an intimate naturalism that feels like film and an ingenious design that celebrates theatre, Canadian director LePage and his performers/co-writers began the creation of this epic meditation with the human voice and the confusion between voice, speech and language.

Anyone who has sung or laughed or cried knows how a sound can say more than words can dare.  The themes are set with the dissonance of a controlled singing voice and the instinctual crying of the baby and move through sounds like lipsynching movies, a farting/groaning corpse, the voice of Kenwood appliances, a Scottish detective resenting his French-speaking sat nav, the voices inside a head and an unspoken story that begins in hour one and ends at hour nine.

Each is remarkable in its reflection on the voice and its transcendence over words and is delicately balanced by a different visual theme and theatrical technique for each of the nine stories. There's one that takes place mostly on public transport, one in a recording studio, one in a bookshop in the snow and one drives around London. Each is so different, that it's as exciting to discover the visual theme for each story as it is to find out whose story is being told.

It's story has often been described as high-class melodrama or soap, but this dismisses its complexity. It's coincidence and connections are so tightly written that it almost demands a second viewing just to re-visit all the moments that didn't seem important at the time, but came rushing back at the end

The cast play one of the central nine and multiple roles. Frédérike Bédard, Carlos Belda, Rebecca Blankenship, Lise Castonguay, John Cobb, Nuria Garcia, Sarah Kemp,  Rick Miller and Hans Piesbergen are the original cast and creators – with LePage and dramaturg Marie Gignac in 2007, when it was a eye-blinking five hours – and are performing in Melbourne. Their performances come from a knowledge of their characters that makes it easy to forget they are acting as they never bring undue attention to themselves or to the story's clues. 

If you've ever watched Buddhist monks make a sand mandala, the creators focus on the intricate beauty  and minutia of a segment before moving to the next. It's only when it's finished that the patterns and breathtaking beauty is revealed, then it's then swept away. Lipsynch reminded me of a mandala.

The detail and craft is astonishing, but its only at the end that it's almost perfect balance is revealed.

The biggest disappointment was the slabs of empty seats (shame on you Melbourne) and the unforgivable surtitle synching. There's no perfection in theatre or life, but I left Lipsynch somehow elated and drained and if I wasn't away this weekend, I'd go back for another nine hours.

This was on aussietheatre.com

just home response

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