The Andersen Project, Barbican, London

What would the Queen of Denmark think?
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The Independent Culture

Robert Lepage really is fabulous. Heaven knows what the Queen of Denmark thinks of his new, self-devised, one-man show, commissioned "by royal command" for the bicentenary celebrations of Hans Christian Andersen's birth. She probably didn't envisage a row of darkened porn booths and a leitmotiv of masturbation. Yet the end result is near-genius: a witty, rueful, probing (and, incidentally, never sexually graphic) portrait of the artist. In fact, The Andersen Project is a portrait of multiple personae in the arts (both high-ranking and underground, actual and fictional), whom we see leading lonely but interconnected lives, crossing borders and centuries.

This is a phenomenally sophisticated, layered - yet seamless - solo performance. Really it's a play - or, indeed, several plays-outside-a-play. An albino Québecois rock lyricist called Lapointe - teasingly akin to Lepage - accepts a prestigious French/Canadian/Danish commission to write a libretto based on The Dryad. Glimpses of Andersen's short story about a trapped tree nymph longing to see Paris are played out, sometimes in miniature with puppets. Meanwhile, Lepage is morphing into the sexually ambivalent and frustrated Andersen in top hat and tails; his lady-love; the long-haired and leather-jacketed Lapointe who's being ditched long-distance; the hooded Moroccan youth who swabs down the booths below his Paris lodgings, and the smart-suited, covertly seedy opera-house manager, Arnaud.

I've never seen Lepage so satirically funny as he is here in his vignettes of the surreptitiously bigoted and cut-throat arts bureaucrat and the flailing writer making a hash of selling his ideas. Simultaneously, this is an eerie, quietly poignant and thoughtful piece about solitude and common ground, alter egos, innocent and adult fantasies, the craving to be loved, creativity and despair.

Technically, it's electrifying too, melding computer graphics, rock music, one-sided monologues and mannequins, dazzlingly swift costume-changes and an invisible, drug-addicted dog on a waggling leash. A truly world-class addition to the Barbican's BITE season.

To 18 February, 0845 120 7550

k.bassett@independent.co.uk



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