Robert Lepage and his creative team

August 16, 2015, Justine Blundell, Edinburgh Guide

Robert Lepage and his creative team, collectively known as Ex Machina, reconstruct memories from his past in an ingenious piece of theatrical magic.

Somewhere beyond casually introducing himself and intoning the usual theatre rules regarding our personal technology, Lepage begins his one-man, one-act performance. This ability to segue seamlessly between directly addressing his audience, and sliding behind the forth wall to enact naturalistic scenes of remembered incidents and conversations, is a part of the artistry that makes this particular piece of theatre a bit special. The planning, preparation and execution of whatever it is that goes on behind the scenes, resulting in set after set of detailed and realistic wonderment, is a different but equally awe-inspiring art. Both are evidence of practised, skilled techniques that, by Lepage’s own admission, come about through an iterative process of fearless failure and some happy accidents.

In 887 Lepage delves into the realm of memory, pondering why some things – perhaps certain songs learnt in childhood, or your first phone number – are never forgotten, and others cannot be remembered no matter how hard you try – your current phone number, for example, or in Lepage’s case ‘Speak White’, a poem by Michèle Lalonde. The trial of attempting to commit this powerful epic to memory is the running thread, tying together musings and theories concerning how memory works and connecting Lepage’s personal past with the history of his native Québec.

Many of the stories and anecdotes reported or performed concern childhood memories of his family and the other occupants of 887 Murray Avenue, where Lepage grew up. Historical facts mingle with the intimate and personal; humour and levity dance among some seriously demanding questions. If a tree falls in the forest and there is no iphone to record its happening, does it make a sound? In this new technical era, what sort of space might theatre occupy; and what lasting impact can a transient piece of theatre make, leaving as it does, no digital footprint to serve as a remembrance?

Given Ex Machina’s technical brilliance they clearly have nothing to fear from a technological future. Given the intellectual depths that Lepage comfortably plunges into, his work will always have relevance and resonate. He is also quietly unassuming, seriously stylish and effortlessly cool – breaking artistic boundaries without breaking sweat. Lepage has become something of an icon in the world of theatre and if you care about theatre in any way at all you cannot afford to miss this opportunity of seeing him in action.