The first thing you need to know, Jean-Philippe Lehoux considers himself a traveler, not a tourist. An important distinction as he recounts stories of his world travels in Napoléon voyage.
Lehoux’s traveler designation is highlighted by some of the stories beyond the usual tourist paths in this quick 80 minute show. Without the usual photographic accompaniment, Lehoux relates visits to places like Bosnia-Herzegovina shortly after the end of the war, and a trip to a monastery in Syria before ISIS was a thing.
There is also the more familiar alongside the unfamiliar, usually with a comic bent. In one particularly funny story, Lehoux recounts his chance meeting with the King of Norway.
For anyone who has done their own share of travels, there is also the potential for genuine connection. Having had an opportunity to visit Japan several years ago myself, Lehoux’s observations on the island country and its people are as if sharing an inside joke.
Wrapped inside Lehoux’s travelogue is an underlying tribute, as he injects small mentions of someone he connected with early in his travels. Lehoux never fully reveals the nature of his relationship with this other person, but it does add a certain sweet melancholy to the proceedings. It is obviously important though, and the one piece of Napoléon voyage where we are left wanting more.
Another recurring theme is Lehoux’s delicate stomach. While he warns us from the start he will spend time talking about his adventures with toilets, it does begin to wear. The roll of toilet paper, visibly hanging from the coat rack from which he pulls other props, never gets used, but it is a constant reminder of the motif.
One-man shows of this nature are very much a staple of the Fringe circuit. What helps to elevate Napoléon voyage beyond a typical festival show is the addition of live music from Bertrand Lemoyne. Adding colour to specific stories and transitions between them, Lemoyne has a wonderful voice and his skills on kazoo and ukulele accentuate the comedic nature of the show.
As our city’s professional French-language theatre company, Théâtre la Seizième presents all its shows on select nights with English surtitles. While I called its production of Bonjour, la bonjour a tough sell for Anglophones due to issues with the English surtitles, it is largely a non-issue here.
Much of the success in Napoléon voyage is attributable to Lehoux’s skill as both writer and performer. Even with the text translated into English and projected on the screen high above the stage, Lehoux creates vivid pictures for those of us who do not understand French. Not a small feat in any language, one cannot help but assume the images for those who do “parlez Francais” will be even more intense.
As Lemoyne sings the play’s final number and Lehoux gazes off into the distance, one can’t help but think there is a lost opportunity here to show real-life photographs from some of the stories he has just told.
But perhaps that is the biggest difference between a traveler and a tourist. A traveler only needs memories. And in the case of Lehoux at least, the ability to effectively tell them on stage.
Napoléon voyage by Jean-Philippe Lehoux. Directed by Philippe Lambert and Jean-Philippe Lehoux. A Théâtre Hors Taxes production, presented by Théâtre la Seizième. On stage at Studio 16 (1555 West 7th Ave, Vancouver) until May 6. Visit http://seizieme.ca for tickets and information.