Auckland Festival
March 5-22 | Reviewed by Alexander Bisley

ROBERT LEPAGE’s wondrous The Seven Streams of the River Ota was a transformative experience. The Andersen Project (Aotea Centre, March 19-22) demanded I got on a plane to the Auckland Festival and I highly doubt I will see better theatre this year.

Lepage’s imaginatively staged play hooks you in with KDD’s sweltering rap ‘Qui Tu Es?’ (Who Are You?), which hits you like a shot of adrenaline to the heart. Honing in on the crucial theme of identity, it’s complemented by a Morrocan graffiti artist drawing an image of Hans Christian Andersen.

The young immigrant cleans a peep show below a Parisian apartment. Upstairs Frederic Lapointe, an Albino Canadian librettist, is working on The Andersen Project, inspired by the Dane’s life and work. Yves Jacques memorably portrays both men, Andersen and Frederic’s Paris Opera producer.

The porn-addicted Parisian, and Frederic’s visit to a psychologist, occasions much comedy. Razor-sharp one-liners and sustained, thoughtful riffs edgily explore insularity, awakening, sex, man’s search for meaning and French bigotry.

Lepage splendiferously blends multimedia, from diminutive puppets to eye-popping visuals. Sometimes it’s most poignant; portraying Andersen’s unrequited love for Swede Jenny Lind. Other times it’s very witty; Frederic’s train ride segues into drug- fuelled clubbing, scored with DJ Tiesto’s ‘Sweet Surrender’ remix. Donizetti, Grieg and Offenbach are also shrewdly used.

Afterwards, The Benka Boradovsky Bordello Band provided a reasonably fun, Eastern European nightcap at the atmospheric Spiegeltent. With echoes of The Darkness, Borat and Tom Waits, the five-piece jaunted through aptly titled songs, ‘Dark Eyes’, ‘Nabakov’s Wandering Eye’ and ‘Dance of Death’.