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Loneliness is as wide as space and as small and close as the human heart in The Far Side Of The Moon.
The dream-like play by Canadian auteur Robert Lepage makes its Singapore premiere on Friday at the Esplanade Theatre.
Amid its many technical marvels – a moving mirror as wide as the stage, a glass porthole that could be the door of a washing machine or a spaceship – is just one man, alone onstage.
He is Canadian actor Yves Jacques, who plays all the characters, most notably a pair of estranged brothers: shy, struggling academic Philippe and successful television weatherman Andre.
They are reluctantly drawn back together by the death of their mother (also played wordlessly by Jacques), even as the space race between the Americans and Russians unfolds in the background.
“This show is special,” says Jacques, 63, over the telephone from his home in Montreal. “It is a real pleasure. I have played it 375 times and I am still surprised at what it does to me.”
The play was first staged by Lepage, who also starred in it and designed the set with his company Ex Machina, in 2000. It has won numerous awards, including the Evening Standard Theatre Awards for Best Play and the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Best Director.
Lepage also wrote, directed and starred in a 2003 film adaptation of the play.
Jacques has been performing in Far Side since 2001. “I said yes to (Lepage) before seeing it,” he recalls. “Then when I got to see it, I said, ‘This is too much, I won’t be able to do it, you’d better take somebody else.'”
Lepage invited him to go backstage and see the show’s inner workings. “You’ll see that everything is on a human scale,” he told Jacques.
Although Jacques is alone onstage, there is a team of 10 technicians working behind the scenes, whom he considers a “second family”.
He compares doing the show, with its many technical tricks and shifting between different characters, to grocery shopping.
“You know what you’re coming out with, a basket full of food. But while you’re making the trip, you have to stop at every counter and touch the vegetables and choose them and so on.
“For every scene, I have to take the time it needs, not rush to the end or think about the other scenes coming up. I have to live it.”
One of Far Side’s most iconic moments is a “moonwalk” in which Philippe appears to be floating in space to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, a trick that is achieved through use of the mirror and Jacques rolling about onstage.
“It is an old magic trick that was used in the Greek period,” he says. “But it’s very moving. Everything that Lepage uses on stage – it’s not to amaze you or be avant-garde, he is using these things to tell the story.”
The show has played in 45 cities around the world, but its story of reconnecting despite faultlines is one that resonates across cultures.
“It talks to everyone all over the world,” says Jacques. “In Seoul, for example, people were touched by the show because they have this fracture between North and South Korea. After the show, people would come up to me in tears.
“It is a beautiful show about reconciliation and how human beings are the same all over the world.”
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