887 at the Barbican
Renowned Québecois playwright, actor and director Robert Lepage brings his distinctive brand of self-reflexive, autobiographical performance to the Barbican, for 887. Employing a virtuoso set design, mixed media, and flights of poetry, he sketches a full portrait of his life to date.
The stage, designed by the playwright, employs a larger-than-life doll’s house to depict his childhood home. Lepage is our omniscient narrator, standing shoulder to shoulder with the towering apartment block, within which unfolds not only his life story, but a microcosm of an evolving Québec society. Flitting between his boyhood and present-day life as an actor, whose working-class background still shapes him, Lepage patiently draws parallels between his own political awakening and that of his fractious home city. This lends an academic, didactic air to certain scenes, as he outlines the origins of the Canadian flag, or a certain war hero from his town, juxtaposed against more emotional recollections, such as his dad accompanying him to de Gaulle’s state visit.
This relationship with his absent father is doubtless the emotional crux of the play and, indeed, the performer appears most comfortable when he engages in his full flights of poetic fancy on this topic. In the second half (though there is no intermission in the show), he adopts the role of his father, a former war hero turned taxi driver, reimagining conversations and envisaging where his long nights on the road would have taken him. Lepage deftly navigates this contrast in tone, as he veers from a dissection of the Québec Liberation Front, into a poem about his mother’s crippling loneliness in their apartment block, but this shift may prove jarring for some.
Indeed, 887 truly grips when Lepage relishes his poetic scenes, culminating in a rendition of Speak White by Michèle Lalonde that serves as the climax to the show. However, there is a somewhat staccato pacing throughout – an abrupt halting of this momentum when the performer switches back to narrating his life as an actor in present/recent-day Québec. These scenes are more purely narrative than anything else in the piece, but there is very little at stake within them, and at their worst Lepage risks the sort of self-aggrandizement he has, until now, managed to avoid.
Nonetheless, 887 is mostly that rare thing – a one-man, one-of-a-kind production, holding the audience spellbound as the evolving doll’s house of a stage becomes the backdrop of a lifetime. Lepage is nothing short of a master.
Photo: Eric Labbé
887 is at the Barbican from 1st until 10th June 2017, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for 887 here: