Stewart Lee previews Robert Lepage
Edinburgh Fringe veteran and comedian picks Robert Lepage’s 887 as his Edinburgh International Festival highlight
This article is from 2015.
Every August, Stewart Lee arrives in Edinburgh determined to experience a life-changing cultural event. For the comedian, bets don’t come much safer than on a Robert Lepage production
I’ve worked at the Edinburgh Fringe every year since 1987, except in 2001 when I was too broke to run up the usual performer debt. I used to aim to see 100 of the 2000 or so shows in the Fringe. Now, with kids to care for and the need for sleep, I aim for a more achievable 30.
Most years I used to luck out and witness something life-changing: Will Adamsdale’s Jackson’s Way in a cave in 2004; Derevo’s La Divina Commedia in a Big Top two years earlier; Jerry Sadowitz exploding at the Gilded Balloon in ‘87; Nick Pynn playing tuned wine glasses to capacity crowds of two dozen in candlelit attics throughout the noughties; Jeff Buckley at the Belle Angele in ‘94; Bert Jansch repeatedly at the Acoustic Music Centre; and Daniel Kitson in various years in various spaces, just talking, but taking everyone to amazing places.
Every few years I steel myself to splash out on something expensive in the main Edinburgh International Festival – Philip Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi, a Beckett adaptation – but however good the productions are, I always wonder why I have spent tens of pounds there when I could have spent ten pounds, or no pounds at all, on something uncertain in the Fringe.
This year, my International Festival excursion is the French-Canadian theatre maker Robert Lepage’s 887. Nearly two decades ago now, I went out with a talented theatre producer who force-fed ignorant me with some work of the contemporary greats. We saw Lepage’s The Far Side of the Moon in some massive temple of culture in London, a big production piece which offset an epic depiction of the space race against the small intimate story of two brothers (both played by Lepage) dealing with the death of their mother.
At the time I was working in Music Theatre, an idiotic idiom where vast funds are routinely and demonstrably squandered to justify extortionate ticket prices. But Lepage used his resources to reach out from the impregnable citadel of theatre and take hold, delicately, of the human heart. And he has done so whenever I have seen his work since.
887, EICC, Morrison Street, 0131 473 2000, 13–15, 18, 20, 23 Aug, 7.30pm, 16, 19, 21 & 22 Aug, 2.30pm, £32; Stewart Lee: A Room With a Stew, Assembly Rooms, George Street, 0844 693 3008, 8–30 Aug (not 17), 2.15pm, £12.50.