Here are two North American duos engaging in physical comedy: one close to conventional clowning and mime, with a neat physical device, the other zipping between various bizarre scenarios using nothing more than their bodies and a couple of chairs.
New York-based rainpan 43 base their show All Wear Bowlers on the premise of a couple of silent-era comedians who unexpectedly jump out of their film and find themselves before the live audience. Geoff Sobelle and Trey Lyford work beautifully with Michael Glass's black-and-white films, nipping repeatedly in and out as their characters play with their startling discovery, until the film appears to melt in the projector gate and trap them in this world. There's very little speech in this phase, and most of it is either near-gibberish or (inappropriately for the characters) swearing. When they move further away from this core conceit, scenes fit less comfortably into the structure: a cod-ventriloquism act and a King Kong routine seem included largely to bulk out the piece. It's a bad call: if they'd stuck to the central idea they would have had a fine 60-minute show, rather than an 80-minute one which loses focus.
The Pajama Men from Canada were nominated for last year's Perrier Best Newcomer award, and appear unambiguously in the Comedy section of the Fringe programme, whereas their bowlered counterparts are under "Dance & Physical Theatre". At the performance I saw, they were in danger of being lost in their venue, playing to barely a dozen paying punters in the 200+-capacity Pleasance Two space. However, Mark Chavez and Shenoah Allen did not stint in their performance, which zips between pairs of characters such as body-swapping suicides, a woman who falls in love with an extraterrestrial and a pair of cowboys who can't die properly. They rely on exaggerated physical and facial movement, but also crazily twisting high-speed dialogue, as when one man periphrastically threatens another, "I'm comin' back with a crowbar and I'm gonna teach you a thing or two about how not to walk any more!" They elicited enough response from those dozen people to make it feel like the solid house they deserve.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
Return to index of reviews for the year 2005
Return to master reviews index
Return to main theatre page
Return to Shutters homepage