Thursday, 2 October 2008

The Andersen Project (2005)

A Review - ‘The Andersen Project’

It is seldom that you get to see a master actor, and a master creator, at the top of his or her form. Robert Lepage's The Andersen Project is one such show.

This account of Frederic, the Canadian pop lyricist brought to Paris to write a libretto inspired by one of the darker fairytales of Hans Christian Anderson is a deeply human story that never strikes a false note.

There are plenty of laughs, with a rapid-fire string of European and Atlantic arts in-jokes that almost, but not quite, descend to a stand-up routine. You are, however, always laughing with Lepage, never at him.

This is a one-man show, in the sense that Lepage plays not only the would-be librettist, seeking professional and personal validation, but also all of the other characters, from Arnaud, the conniving but troubled administrator of the Paris Opera, to the Dryad of Anderson's tale. Yet there's a long list of technical credits, from the puppeteer who produces a wonderfully believable mutt out of thin air to the "horse cart-maker", and these are well deserved. Every aspect of The Andersen Project from the supra-realist video backdrops to the elaborate but designerista set, has been polished to almost eerie perfection.

Often in one-person productions, each individual character is seen in one dimension; it is the only way many actors can manage all those different roles. Yet Lepage's characters are fully rounded. So the Opera director, that Machievellian master of arts politics, morphs quite naturally into a fond father reading a sad bedtime story (Anderson's other contribution to the show, The Shadow) to a beloved daughter, a daughter he fears he is about to lose, along with his wife.

I did initially doubt Lepage's Dryad - she seemed too stiff, too thick, yet when you think about it, even an ethereal being who has spent her life cramped within one small walnut tree is going to move awkwardly, slowly, when suddenly unleashed for one magic day on the streets of Paris and amidst the World Fair of 1855 that inspired Andersen.

This is a production like a matrioshka doll; both character and themes are exposed by the delicate peeling of fine layers. Each small action and omission will come to have meaning; each betrayal, each lie, each Fall will claim its price in time. Even an apparent joke, such as the rope that features ridiculously in a solemn commentary in the museum that commemorates Denmark's greatest national figure, turns out to have far more significance than any in the audience might have imagined.

Written by Natalie Bennett and published on January 30, 2006 (

The following extract is from the LCSD website (Leisure and Cultural Services Department) promoting arts and culture in Hong Kong

The Andersen Project - A Fairy-tale for Adults

The playwright appears on stage and announces to the audience, "Ladies and gentlemen, the show tonight is cancelled!" But that's only the beginning of the story…

Having come to Paris at the behest of L'Opera de Paris, which has commissioned him to write the libretto for a children's opera based on a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, a Quebecois songwriter settles down in a friend's apartment. During his stay, he meets the Opera's manager, a man with some odd and unusual likings, a graffiti artist of North African descent, as well as a dog who could be guiding the tale along its way. And even Hans Christian Andersen comes out from the dream.

Freely inspired by two stories by Andersen, The Dryad and The Shadow and from anecdotes drawn from the famed Danish author's Parisian travels, The Andersen Project calls on some of Lepage's recurring themes: the confrontation of romanticism and modernism, of recognized and underground art forms, between past and present.

However, in this solo work, he also explores more troubling territories: questions about sexual identity, unfulfilled fantasies and a thirst for recognition and fame that are drawn from Andersen's life and writings, only to serve as a filigree to the modern tale.

The production toured extensively in Canada, Denmark, France, Australia, U.K., Japan, Italy, Spain, Germany, Russia, Korea and Taiwan and received critical acclaims since its premiere in 2005.

Yves Jacques took the solo role in some more recent versions of the production, for example in the Kwai Tsing Theatre in June 2008.] Yves Jacques was born in Quebec, Canada, in 1956. In The Andersen Project, Yves Jacques is the virtuoso actor who plays the songwriter from Quebec, the manager of L'Opera de Paris and the Moroccan immigrant to Paris all in one, metamorphosing easily and convincingly from one character to another as he takes on different looks, accents and a different age. He has made this one man show a triumph that easily captures every heart in the audience.

Posted by Leanda Hatten and Lily Springer