Why do I go to the theatre regularly? To be entertained? To be challenged? Because I’m a student of the art form? Yes to all of these but my primary aim is to be changed. A lofty aim no doubt, and to be honest it seldom happens, but every so often it does, and it’s the most incredible experience.
Since commencing my Theatre Studies back in 2005 there have been several seminal events in my theatrical life. One of which was hearing Robert Lepage lecture at my college in my first year of study. His passion, vision and clarity struck me, and following that lecture I researched more into his work, and his life. I’ve been fortunate to see some of his work via video, but never live. The chance to see his new play and with him in it, made it top of my list for theatrical visits this year. I was also fortunate to see TOTEM also by Lepage this year and I found that an inspiring theatrical event.
So I booked this ticket solely on the fact that it was a Lepage play, but as I then read more about it, I became more and more intrigued. It focuses on Pierre Lamontagne, the character Lepage created for his Dragon’s Trilogy just over 25 years ago. We revisit this character in Shanghai and catch up with him and his life. Lepage plays Pierre, in what is one of the best portrayals I’ve seen on stage. Following this post recently a friend commented to me that, it’s great when you see a play and you forget the actor, and you become immersed in the world on stage and that character. Lepage was an object lesson in this, he WAS Pierre. Likewise Tai Wei Foo and Marie Michaud who played Xiao Ling and Claire respectively also created believable characters on stage. More than that though I cared for these characters and their decisions and their lives.
For me this was why this play was so special, it had heart and soul, and I felt part of their world as I could see it was a reflection of my own world. We live in a Globalised world now and Theatre is responding to that in various ways, one is to simply produce the same musicals everywhere – a Chinese version of Les Mis opened in 2008. More Cameron Mackintosh productions are to follow in China too. Whilst this is one way of reacting to the new world, I feel Lepage’s is more organic and more beneficial. The Blue Dragon felt that each culture was respected and brought to the melting pot. That’s not to say only the good parts of each culture were displayed, far from it, the small-minded view of the Québécois that Pierre escaped from was shown as well as the harshness of life in China, but Lepage never went over to melodrama, his characters have to put up with problems like we all do, they got on, made decisions and lived with them. That is why this play resonated with me so much, it felt tangible and real, like few plays do. The speech of the play is in English, French and Mandarin (with subtitles) as and when required, rather than being confusing it simply helped to add to the realism and also the difference in speech tones and rhythms between the three languages was striking to hear. As someone who works in a cosmopolitan city and work environment, different languages being spoken at anytime is not something that I’m unfamiliar with, again it’s part of being in the 21st Century Globalised world. One thing the play highlighted is something we’ve known for a long time, but was dramatically shown here, we’ll all be hearing more Mandarin in the future, more than French and English perhaps?
Lepage is known for his use of theatrical effects and this play is no different, but again, the effects, staging and lighting fit in seamlessly, and help to tell the story. This is theatre for a 21st century audience that isn’t afraid to use visual and cinematic ideas. The set gave me a feeling of “widescreen” and the clever staging utilised one aspect that theatre is especially suited to, that of working vertically whereas film is primarily a horizontal view, Lepage blended to the two genres and played to the strength of each.
I especially loved the tribute to Herge’s book The Blue Lotus in this play. As the programme states, for many (myself included) this book was probably the first time that many of us encountered China and the images Herge paints certainly have left their mark on generations of westerners.
It’s refreshing to go to the theatre and be surprised, challenged and inspired and all in the same night! That is how I felt having watched The Blue Dragon. The playwright Eugene Ionesco talked about his work and the “two fundamental states of consciousness” between which he moved, “an awareness of evanescence and of solidity, of emptiness and too much presence, of the unreal transparency of the world and its opacity, of light and of thick darkness.” ( see his book Notes and Counter Notes) I got a sense of this last night, especially between the evanescent and solidity of the characters lives and of my own too, something that had been fairy cerebral until last night.