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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2005

Rainpan 43 - 'all wear bowlers'

by Lea Marshall

August 10, 2005 -- Aurora Nova at St. Stephen's Church, Edinburgh

Walking into the lower level theatre at St. Stephen’s Church and seeing two bowler hats preset on the floor of the stage space, you know you’re in for it. And when, as the lights go down, the hats begin to skitter across the floor of their own accord, well, it’s obviously too late to say, “Hold on to your hats.”

Combining clowning, pantomime, sleight-of-hand, film, vaudeville, and ventriloquism, Geoff Sobelle (as Earnest) and Trey Lyford (as Wyatt) have created a theatrical work that explores the shifting nature of reality, identity, and eggs. But perhaps most importantly, it just makes you giggle like a child.

From the moment Sobelle bursts from a Laurel and Hardy style film sequence into the stage space in a flash of light, the audience is held in thrall, wondering what will happen next and enjoying the two actors’ impeccable comic timing, expressions, and gestures, both nuanced and extravagant.

Moving back and forth from behind a mid-stage screen, it is Earnest who first discovers that his film world and the “real” world of the theatre are colliding. “There’s people out there!!” he hisses to Wyatt, who peers around the edge of the screen, gazing at the audience with widening eyes. From this startling discovery, both characters set to work figuring out a way to escape from us, all the while drawing us deeper and deeper into their unsettled world, filled with moments of hilarity, panic, and demented gaiety.

In one of the most compelling sequences of the piece, Sobelle and Lyford conjure up an invisible third bowler-wearing man sitting between them using carefully studied and highly skilled pantomime. At that moment, you have the sense that all the hijinks have been delicately conceived and strung together simply in order to bring the audience to a properly receptive and imaginative state -- because who can watch an “invisible man” on stage without a willingness, an eagerness to see what isn’t there, what could not even BE seen, even if it were there?

It is this eagerness that Sobelle and Lyford succeed so well at eliciting throughout the evening, ingeniously drawing on our childlike desire to crack up in gut-wrenching laughter at someone else’s foolish behavior, and our adult urge to analyze and dissect that same behavior -- to understand it and to pigeonhole it. But when the two actors sit down facing us in chairs stolen from audience members, contemplate us all for several minutes, and say, “I don’t get it. Oh, it’s avant-garde,” they have turned the tables on us so thoroughly that we can only applaud their ability to see around all corners while pretending to see nothing. We can only take their hands and follow blithely wherever they may lead us, whether to madness or enlightenment.

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