What's On


Lipsynch, directed by Robert Lepage, is showing as part of the Sydney Festival. Arts Hub Reviewer Boris Kelly says it is impossible to think of a production of the scope, vision and technical artistry of Lipsynch being produced in Australia.
The art of theatre lies in the ability of the director to concentrate collective talent into a singular vision, much as a magnifying glass focuses the light of the sun to produce a burning ray. Truly great theatre directors, of which there are few, have in common an uncanny sense of how an audience will react to an image, gesture or sound. They are good 'listeners', in the broadest sense of the word. Robert Lepage is such a director and Lipsynch, presented by his company Ex Machina as part of the Sydney Festival, is an example of contemporary theatre making at its very best. Throughout his distinguished career Lepage has been engaged in the creation of a theatre of ideas. Lipsynch is an epic story, spanning several decades and as many countries, told in English, French, Spanish and German. The multimedia production, developed over months of research, rehearsal and trial runs, is an exploration of oral communication. As Lepage says in the director's notes: "We often confuse voice, speech and language although they are very distinct and totally different things. Lipsynch is about the specific signification of all three and their interaction in modern human expression." The stage of the Theatre Royal - surely one of the worst theatres in Sydney - is stripped back to its mechanical bones, the black box revealed as the site of a magnificently orchestrated illusion. Lepage and his multidisciplinary collaborators create worlds within worlds using the simplest tools of the actor and highly sophisticated, at times mesmerising staging technology. Borrowing from the techniques of cinema, television, radio, music and poetry this group of highly skilled actors, technicians and designers have been unleashed to explore the outer limits of their art and we are the beneficiaries. Proust once observed that there are two voices at work in the artist. The first is a public voice, social if you like, the voice we use to interact with the world around us, the voice as a kind of mask we present to each other. The other voice is hardly one at all in the sense that it is not physical, it cannot be heard or 'spoken' for it exists within a very private, inner space. These two voices are often at odds and, in the case of certain psychological and physical malfunctions, can cause pain and confusion. The gift of the artist lies in the expression of this inner, intuitive voice through art. The inarticulate speech of the heart, as Van Morrison once called it. This is the terrain in which Lipsynch operates, the tension between conscious and unconscious, social and private, right brain and left. But Lipsynch is not weighed down by onerous theoretical discourse. On the contrary, it is a very fine example of theatre as liberation, as the expression of the full gamut of human thought and emotion. What happens on stage is so utterly engaging that the experience resembles a journey that will live on for days, if not months and years after you have returned home. Time is compressed into tiny moments of pathos, shock, laughter (there are lots of laughs in this show), tears, joy and intelligent observation embedded in a matrix of challenging ideas that cause us to reflect deeply on the experience of being a human being in today's sharp, mediated, brutal world. After nine hours in the theatre I was disappointed when the end finally came. Sadly, it is impossible to think of a production of the scope, vision and technical artistry of Lipsynch being produced in Australia, just as it is impossible to imagine a theatre artist being as valued and as celebrated as Lepage is in his native Quebec. We simply do not understand the resources required for such work to be created and evolved over months and years of experimentation, risk taking, failure and creative freedom. Our funding agencies continue to be short-sighted in this respect yet when confronted by shows of the calibre of Lipsynch we wonder why we can't do it here. Perhaps, to our collective loss, we just want to ignore the answer. Lipsynch, directed by Robert Lepage, is showing as part of the Sydney Festival at the Theatre Royal, January 11-12, 15, 17-18.

Boris Kelly

Friday 16 January, 2009

About the author

Boris Kelly is a Sydney-based writer.