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 at the Barbican is one such show. If you have to borrow the cash, or sleep with someone to get a ticket, do it.
You could write a summary that would make the plot sound like a bad Victorian novel. 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 for a European “co-operative” project right out of the horror files of the Telegraph, is, however, instead 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. On the wilder artistic avant garde: “what makes the English furious makes the French delirious”.
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.