Greed and abandon in overwhelming theatre spectacle

Playing Cards: SPADES

Robert Lepage

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The spade suit in Robert Lepage's Playing Cards: SPADES represents the attack: his spectacle takes us to Las Vegas in 2003, at the time of the Iraq invasion. On the famous Las Vegas Strip and in the desert surrounding the city we follow various characters at a pinnacle moment in their lives, trying their luck. With this production, the famous Canadian theatre and opera director once again proves himself to be the great master of the multimedia theatre spectacle. The intricate stage design allows for the actors to carry out instant set changes, from hotel room to casino, swimming pool, airport or desert. The result is a contemporary myth about seduction, risk and excess, full of illusions, escape art and hypnotizing choreography, which leave the public flabbergasted. All bets are on....
Programme Icoon

Credits

text
Sylvio Arriola
Carole Faisant
Nuria Garcia
Tony Guilfoyle
Martin Haberstroh
Robert Lepage
Sophie Martin
Roberto Mori
direction
Robert Lepage
dramaturgy
Peder Bjurman
assistant director
Félix Dagenais
performed by
Sylvio Arriola
Nuria Garcia
Tony Guilfoyle
Martin Haberstroh
Sophie Martin
Roberto Mori
original music composed and performed by
Philippe Bachman
set design
Louis-Xavier Gagnon-Lebrun
sound design
Jean-Sébastien Côté
costumes
Sébastien Dionne
props design
Virginie Leclerc
images design
David Leclerc
wind artist
Daniel Wurtzel
wigs
Rachel Tremblay
production management
Marie-Pierre Gagné
tour management
Marie Rondot
production
Ex Machina
commissioned by
360° Network
coproduction
Teatro Circo Price – Madrid°
Ruhrtriennale
Comète – Scène nationale de Châlons-en-Champagne°
Célestins – Théâtre de Lyon
Cirque Jules Verne & Maison de la Culture – Scène nationale d'Amiens°
Roundhouse – Londres°
Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe – Paris
Wiener Festwochen – Vienna
Chekhov International Theatre Festival – Moscow
Østre Gasværk Teater –Copenhague°
La Tohu – Montréal, International Stage at Gasverket Stockholm°
Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg
Holland Festival
(°Leden van 360° Network – internationale groep van ronde artistieke locaties)
with support of
Canada Council for the Arts
Quebec's Arts and Literature Council and the city of Quebec
associate production in Europe
Epidemic
producer Ex Machina
Michel Bernatchez

‘A rich mix, made all the headier by Lepage’s constant cinematic references … hypnotic to look at.’

The Guardian

Background information

SPADES is the first part in a series of four performances by the Canadian director Robert Lepage, the 'master wizard' of modern theatre. Lepage has gained international fame with the virtuoso theatre shows he creates with his own production company Ex Machina and as a guest director for Cirque du Soleil and others. 

Production for the tetralogy of which SPADES is the first part started in 2010 and will run into 2015. Under the umbrella title Playing Cards Lepage has devised four shows which represent the four suits of Spades, Hearts, Clubs and Diamonds, with all four referring in their content as well to a game of cards.

In late medieval Arabic and European card games, the Spade suit was also called Swords, and represented the military classes. In analogy, in Lepage's piece Spades is equated with attack, waging war and taking risks. In addition, a number of characters in SPADES reflect Tarot cards, which are a predecessor of our modern card decks. The Fool represents the corrupting devil, the Lovers are the newly married couple and the Hanged Man is the soldier. The Emperor's obsession with power, money and success reflects that of the television producer; the desire for domination by the Empress resonates in the sado-masochistic prostitute the soldier turns to. The Wheel of Fortune is the city of Las Vegas, gambling mekka of the world where this first part of Lepage's tetralogy is set, during the early days of the American war in Iraq in 2003. 

While the American president George W. Bush and his government are taking risks with the lives of their soldiers, the Iraqi people and the fate of the world, we visit the casino's on the Strip, the city itself and the surrounding desert to follow a variety of characters whose lives cross at a decisive point: from a British businessman who cannot control his gambling to a hotel maid who steals from the customers in order to pay her medical costs and a Danish soldier who is humiliated during an exercise in the torrid desert heat. Combined, these stories make up a contemporary mythology of seduction, excess, risk and recklessness, full of illusions, escape art and hypnotising choreography. 

There are just six actors playing a total of 30 characters, but thanks to the ingenious stagecraft of Lepage and his crew and of course the skills of the actors, the audience do not notice this at all. It's even more of a feat when you realise that SPADES is a 360 degrees in the round performance, the first in a total of four performances which Lepage and his company Ex Machina have planned for the next few years. HEARTS premiered in October 2013, and will be followed by DIAMONDS and CLUBS. For SPADES, Lepage has, with his team led by designer Jean Hazel, created a round stage with a rotating outer ring which is mounted in the middle of the auditorium, surrounded by the audience. At the Holland Festival, the venue for SPADES will be De Gashouder. The actors enter the stage from underneath the stage; there are no stage exits left or right. The sets and props are hidden in the stage and in the installation which hangs above the stage, allowing Lepage and his crew to make them appear and disappear with lightning speed. The piece is full of illusion and escape art; the scenes follow on from each other seamlessly, the sets changing from a hotel room to a roulette table, a swimming pool, airport or desert in an instant.

 

This 'vertical' form of theatre (compared to the traditional end theatre) demands not only a sophisticated technical approach but also a different way of acting and even writing for the stage. It forces you to introduce characters which are more metaphoric and more mythic, according to Lepage. 'You […] bring in characters from heaven and hell,' he explained in an interview. For the actors this means that they have to adopt a more physical style of acting. 'You have to carry your voice, to fill the house. And not to direct your energy towards the house.' For the audience the 360 degrees in the round theatre means a whole different experience as well. They will interpret dialogues or scenes on the basis of the reactions of the actors and at the same time they will see the reactions of the audience on the other side. It's a dynamic which creates an intimate atmosphere, making it an adventure which the audience embark on together.

Biography

The French Canadian director Robert Lepage (1957, Quebec Ciy) is internationally acclaimed for his groundbreaking performances, especially through the use of new technologies. As well as a very successful theatre and opera director, he's also a playwright and script writer and has directed six feature films.

Lepage attended the Conservatoire d’art dramatique de Québec and spent a year studying in Paris before he started his career acting, writing and directing in his hometown. In 1980 he joined the Théâtre Repère, creating Circulations in 1984, the play which marked his breakthrough in Canada.

From 1989 until 1993, Lepage was artistic director of the Théâtre français of The National Arts Centre in Ottawa, directing, amongst others, Needles and Opium and a number of Shakespeare plays.

In 1994, he established his multidisciplinary production company Ex Machina. As artistic director of Ex Machina he has built an impressive body of work over the past twenty years, including his theatre productions The Seven Streams of the River Ota (1994), Elsinore (1995), The Dragons’ Trilogy (2003), Lipsynch (2007), The Blue Dragon (2008), Eonnagata (2009) and the Evening Standard Award winning The Far Side of The Moon (2000).

As well as theatre, Lepage has also directed and produced opera. His credits include Bluebeard’s Castle (1993), 1984 with the Royal Opera House in London (2005), Stravinksy’s The Rake’s Progress with La Monnaie in Brussels (2007), Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen with The Metropolitan Opera New York (2010-2012) and The Tempest by Thomas Adès in 2012. In 2012 De Nederlandse Opera staged his directions of Le Rossignol and Renard (Stravinsky).

Lepage is also famous for the spectacular performances he has directed for Cirque du Soleil, including Totem, which had its European premiere in Amsterdam in 2010. In 2007 Lepage was awarded the prestigious Prix Europe.

This performance was made possible with support by