The Playhouse Theatre Company
with Theatre la Seizieme

The Andersen Project: A Modern Fairy Tale
By Robert Lepage

Director Robert Lepage Associate Set Design Jean Le Bourdais Sound Jean-Sebastien Côté Costumes Catherine Higgins Puppeteer Normand Poirier Images Jacques Collin, Veronique Couturier, David Leclerc Stage Manager Nathalie Godbout

Dates 3 - 27 May 2007 @ 20.00 Venue The Vancouver Playhouse Reviewer Jane Penistan

Robert Lepage is an amazing man. Not only has he written The Andersen Project, he also directed and performed all two hours of it solo. This performance is set against beautiful artistic backgrounds of Paris and Montreal from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. The use of modern technology to flip from time and place to then and now or close up or landscape is always pleasing to the eye and ear. The visual and sound technique here is used to great effect.

It is the skill and understanding of the personality of the two main characters of the piece and their relationships with other characters – including an errant dog - which is deeply plumbed and portrayed with such brilliance. Underlying are the biographical details of the life of Hans Christian Anderson. The work was commissioned by the Kingdom of Denmark to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of the well-known author.

The loneliness of the creator and the isolation of any person with some idiosyncrasy is deeply felt and portrayed here. Coming to terms with life’s difficulties and shortcomings are his triumph.

Being asked to write the libretto for a children’s opera based on an Anderson fairy tale, the Quebecois lyricist Frederic Lapointe visits Paris where he comes into conflict with a somewhat unorthodox manager of the Opera Garnier. Paris is still the acme of French culture for the Quebecois, and is viewed as the centre of the sophisticated world.

To live in Paris is the dearest wish of both the Dryad, in Andersen’s fairy tale and Frederic. Her disillusionment and that of Lapointe are reflections of each other. There are other reflections of the fairy stories throughout the script. Lepage’s odd man out is an albino, therefore almost a freak in contemporary French society, like the Ugly Duckling of Andersen’s narrative, but both learnt to survive in an alien world. There are other such parallels throughout the script, which come to be recognized on contemplating the performance later on.

While I found the performance enthralling and admired the great talent of Lepage, especially in his rare tender, story-telling episode, I did think that some of the use of technology a little excessive. I began to wonder how moving the performance would have been without the changing photographic backdrops and with simple lighting.

Would it have stood up as impressively? Would the power of the storyteller have been enhanced by simplicity rather than being swept along on the visual and aural magic? I don’t know, but I do know that this was an enchanting evening and Lepage’s performance was a tremendous tour de force and a great finale to this Playhouse season.

© 2006 Jane Penistan