The Far Side Of The Moon, National Theatre, London

Haunting study of space travel via the washing machine
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In a laundromat, a man pushes his clothes through the portholes of a washing machines. After a while, he stuffs himself in too and we see this process, blown up on a screen and from a reverse angle, so he seems to be floating through the hatch of a spacecraft. This aperture, which can transform itself into everything from a lunar landscape to a birth canal, is the central metamorphosing image in The Far Side of the Moon, the latest multi-media one-man show by the French-Canadian directorial prodigy, Robert Lepage.

This witty, haunting piece conducts an exploration of our need to transcend our terrestrial boundaries. The moon, we are told, was once thought to be a mirror that reflected the earth. Do the deepest impulses motivating space travel lie not in scientific curiosity but in narcissism? Astronauts were, after all, dispatched on missions to send us back snaps of how we look from space.

The fear of being alone in the universe as a species is paralleled in this piece by the sense of vertigo you suffer after the death of both parents. They shielded you from the view of your own position – on the far side of the moon where the comforting earth cannot be seen.

To the sound of Laurie Anderson's otherworldly score, Lepage explores these issues through the story of two brothers (both played by himself) who are trying to come to terms with the demise of their mother. Philippe is a shy, luckless philosopher, struggling to complete his thesis about the effect of space travel on popular culture. Gay Andre is a successful television weather man, often to be seen posing in front of a satellite picture of the globe, but as earthbound in his limited materialistic concerns as Philippe is intellectually questing.

In a show of mirrorings and reflections, the competitiveness between this pair echoes the US-Soviet space rivalry of the era in which they grew up – the one programme impelled by money and vanity, the other more soulful and genuinely curious about the cosmos.

There has never been any doubt about Lepage's dazzling skill at forging unexpected connections or at conveying these through fluent imagery. But the simplicity and emotional maturity in this show feel new. To the strains of the "Moonlight Sonata", it ends in an ingenious sequence where Lepage simulates weightless floating through space. Aptly, as with much else in this magical show, you wonder how you would explain that bizarre, poetic activity to a visiting alien.

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