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"Speak white." — Poem by Michele Lalonde
Robert Lepage (Photo: Eric Labbe)
Robert Lepage has brought his beautifully designed and lit productions to the Barbican before but here is a personal reminiscence on the subject of memory delivered in French and English, with surtitles, by the man himself. 887 recalls his beginnings in a Quebec apartment building which is recreated onstage like a large dolls house but, behind the windows of which, we can magically see the inhabitants moving around.

The inspiration for this discourse on memory came on the 40th anniversary of the first Nuit de la Poesie in 1970 (Night of Poetry), when Lepage wass asked to recite Michele Lalonde's 1968 poem "Speak White". Lepage tells us that in 1889 when a man tried to speak French in the Canadian House of Representatives that he was told to "Speak white".

Speak white is the voice of the imperialist, the colonist whether it be in English or French or any other language of the oppressor. Slaves were told to speak white, the language of their white masters, rather than patois.

Working like a stream of consciousness, Lepage starts with some Canadian history and the naming of the Quebec streets after those involved in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. He finds it challenging to memorise the poem and contacts an old friend who was an actor for some tips on how to recall verse. His friend, after a battle with drugs and alcohol, has lost his radio job and now writes "cold cuts", the obituaries prepared about the famous for the moment when they die and fast news is needed. Lepage wants to know whether a cold cut has been prepared for hims and will ask repeatedly to read it.

Battling his inability to memorise the poem, Lepage returns to those things from childhood which seem printed on our memory. With plenty of endearing self deprecation, he tells us he cannot remember his cell phone number but clearly remembers the first phone number he had as a child.

We see pictures of his family and he tells us about his taxi driver father, often absent from home in order to work and provide for his family. A small car will draw up outside the dolls house apartment building and smoke will come out of the window as his father smokes awaiting a call for the taxi.

In the apartment building, we meet his neighbours — the woman who cleans obsessively, the great Dane dog named Hamlet, the delinquent children who fight and are rowdy all day long. Lepage's evocative word pictures are illustrated by delicate animations of the shadow figures lit at the windows. Later he will step into his current living quarters as they become life sized.

The recent history of the battle for French speaking Quebec is recalled via the bombs, the kidnapping and murder of Pierre Laporte by the FLQ, Front de la Liberation du Quebec in the October crisis of 1970. The political is blended with the personal and Lepage keeps us on the edge of our seats for two hours as he gives us much to reminisce on, some things to amuse us and some indelible images.

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Written, designed, directed and performed by Robert Lepage
English translation by Louisa Blair
Creative Direction and Design: Steve Blanchet
Lighting Design: Laurent Routier
Image Designer: Felix Fradet-Faguy
Composer and Sound Design: Jean Sebastian Cote
An Ex Machina Production
Running time: Two hours without an interval
Box Office: 020 7638 8891
Booking to 7th June 2017 at London Barbican and then in Netherlands and Moscow to 7 July 20017
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 1st June 2017 performance at the Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS (Tube: Moorgate or the Barbican)
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