Including intermissions, Robert Lepage's new epic Lipsynch - it had its world premiere at the Barbican in London on Sunday - runs about nine hours, making it tricky to even summarize the plot in a single, 800-word review (like the one that appears in the paper today). Luckily here on the Interweb, there's nothing but space. So here's a chapter-by-chapter look at the play for you Lepage-o-philes. It will next be back in Canada at Toronto's Luminato festival. (In 2009? Or 2010?) I'll definitely be curious to see how it hangs together after another year (or two) of further development. Chapter 1: Ada Played by: Rebecca Blankenship Who is she? An Austrian-Canadian opera singer. What happens? With the help of a German neurologist named Thomas, Ada adopts Jeremy, the child of a prostitute named Lupe who died on her flight from Frankfurt to Montreal's Mirabel airport. (Remember Mirabel?) Jeremy grows up to have a beautiful voice like his (adoptive) mother, but then his voice changes and so do his musical tastes. Jeremy and his adopted mother fall "out of sync", and he heads off to the Americas to study film and learn all about his biological mother. Signature Lepage moment: Jeremy takes a flight to America, singing a duet with Ada. She slowly floats backwards past outside his window, while his biological mother's ghost delicately treads across the top of the plane. Gorgeous! Verdict: A stunning opening. I headed into the first interval - that's what they call intermissions here in England - excited for what was to come. Chapter 2: Thomas Played by: Hans Piesbergen Who is he? German neurologist who helped Ada adopt Jeremy, later her boyfriend. He's a Hamlet who delivers soliloquys while holding up a model of a brain rather than Yorick's skull. What happens? Thomas's hands begin to shake, a condition that endangers his career. He struggles with his belief in atheism after the death of his mentor. His relationship with Ada hits the rocks. Signature Lepage moment: A scene in a jazz bar, where Thomas listens to his patient Marie sing a bluesy version of April in Paris. On the stage we see an assortment of pieces of wood seemingly scattered at random, but from a certain angle - filmed and projected on the back wall - they appear to be a solid table and a piano. A drunken Thomas stumbles through them. Verdict: Crammed full of ideas, this chapter is intellectually interesting, if not necessarily as involving as the opening one. Piesbergen is a great, charismatic performer. John Cobb has a hilarious scene as Ada's former speech therapist, lipsynching to what sounds like a genuine interview with a doddering old woman. Chapter 3: Sarah Played by: Sarah Kemp Who is she? The housekeeper for Ada's old speech therapist, an ex-prostitute with a thick Mancunian accent. What happens? Interviewed about her former profession on BBC Radio, Sarah learns that one of the station's posh-sounding announcers is actually her brother - a discovery that brings up memories of the bad old days, when they were abused in a foster home. Signature Lepage moment: The first half of this act is a recorded radio broadcast, partly played as background noise, partly lipsynched to by the actors onstage. Verdict: OK, obviously we're heading off on a tangent here. I thought we were going to follow Marie next... Dropped into the life of a previously unseen character two hours into the play, I had to readjust my focus, not easy when Sarah doesn't say a word for the first ten minutes or so. After the somewhat trying lipsynched portion, I became more invested in her story. More hilarity from Nuria Garcia as a male escort, also interviewed on BBC. (Is this a real interview? The male escort seems too absurd to be fictional... Fellow sitting next to me isn't sure when people are lipsynching and when they're not. Reality/fiction, blurred together!) Chapter 4: Jeremy Played by: Rick Miller Who is he? Adopted daughter of Ada. What happens? Jeremy is making his first feature film, a multilingual fantasy about his mother and how music brings people who speak different language together. In fact, everyone in the film is at each other's throats. Jeremy's life is further complicated when he is seduced by the married star (Nuria Garcia again, who also plays his mother). Signature Lepage moment: A chaotic restaurant scene that takes place in four different languages and in which no one understands anyone else. Verdict: Funny and fast-paced. The slow scene changes were becoming a drag, but here they are a lot more fun as a production assistant runs around during them ordering the stagehands around. The chapter has a genuine cliffhanger, too. I'm fully back on board now. Chapter 5: Marie Played by: Frédéricke Bédard Who is she? Singer and voice actor from Quebec who was a patient of Thomas's. What happens? Marie's brain surgery has left her with certain memory gaps from her childhood. Upset that she can no longer remember the sound of her father's voice, she hires a lip reader to figure out what he was saying in the family's old silent 8mm home videos, and then brings in a voice actor to dub him. Signature Lepage moment: Marie begins the scene with post-surgery aphasia - temporarily unable to speak, but still able to sing. She records a four-part wordless song on her laptop, the soundwaves projected on the back wall behind her. Verdict: Touching. This chapter had some of my favourite business that was completely unconnected to the plot. Marie dubbing a scene from the Quebecois release of Jeremy's film, for instance. I enjoyed getting a peek at life as a voice actor, but I could sense others around me wondering why we were watching so many extended scenes of people working in recording studios. Lots of "DVD extra" material here. Chapter 6: Jackson Played by: John Cobb Who is he? Scotland Yard detective with a thick Glaswegian accent whose French-born wife has just left him. What happens? Jackson investigates the death of a voice actor and tries to find a partner for his non-refundable dance lessons. Signature Lepage moment: A talking car! Like Herbie, but French. Verdict: Cobb is quite funny, but this is a bad police procedural. The theme of class and voice from Sarah's chapter is repeated, but in a more hit-you-over-the-head manner. Chapter 7: Sebastien Played by: Carlos Belda Who is he? Sound engineer we've seen working with Marie and other characters. What happens? Having heard of the death of his comedian father, he travels back to the Canary Islands to bury him. Farce ensues. Signature Lepage moment: At the morgue, Sebastien's body begins to expel gas. It's Lepage's atheistic little joke about the theatre's fondness for fathers speaking to their sons from beyond the grave. Verdict: No one really wanted to know more about Sebastien, and at this point in the long marathon, it seems cruel to delay the denouement. Would this scene even be here if a festival in the Canary Islands wasn't co-producing? Didn't help that the surtitles were off. Chapter 8: Michelle Played by: Lise Castonguay Who is she? Mentally ill sister of Marie living in Quebec CIty What happens? Released from an institution, Michelle tries to reacclimatize to life on the outside. Slowly she rediscovers her artistic voice. Signature Lepage moment: A scene in the bookstore where Michelle works is seen from the outside through the shop windows; Michelle' hallucinations walk by. The scene is then repeated from the inside, where you can hear the characters, without the hallucinations. Verdict: Would be nice stand alone, but two essentially unrelated pieces in a row? I miss Jeremy. And I'm getting a bit tired of these art installation-y bit and the endless scene changes. (The jet lag isn't helping.) Well, if you're an impatient person you'll have left already. In fact, if you're an impatient person, you probably haven't come to a nine-hour play, so what am I complaining about?
Chapter 9: Lupe Played by: Nurcia Garcia Who is she? Jeremy's biological mother. What happens? We finally learn how the young Nicaraguan really ended up working as a prostitute in Germany and why she was on the plane to Montreal. Signature Lepage moment: A disturbing rape scene in which the hands of many men are projected onto Lupe's body. Verdict: The play ends on a high note, visually, emotionally. Perhaps not uncoincidentally, this chapter pays the least attention to the theme of "voice".