Created by Geoff Sobelle
Opera House; NZ Festival (March 7-11)
We begin in pitch black – creator of the show, magician, actor, theatre-illusionist Geoff Sobelle appears, he builds a screen. Some people seem to find it painstaking – it’s a test of sorts. But the screen – a wooden frame with cloth stapled to it helps to initiate a set of quick-change moments and actor-swapping illusions.
Slowly but surely we are immersed into the world of a house. We start with just the bed. And from there with the eventual curtain-drop to a two-storey structure we watch as it’s built and decorated. Sobelle and his crew and cast – Sophie Bortolussi, Justin Rose, Jennifer Kidwell, Ching Valdes-Aran and our own Sam Glenn (a year six student from Easbourne’s Muritai School in his debut) – are amazing to watch. It’s a ballet of sorts, the timing exquisite as we see the mundane tasks of household dwellers performed with panache. From toilet stops and showering to breakfast-making, napping, reading in a chair, putting washing on – it’s all performed, choreographed, a little bit Morecombe & Wise one moment, a tiny bit Buster Keaton the next.
Musician Elvis Perkins wanders in and out with songs as the narrative and music for a live score. He’s like Jonathan Richman’s minstrel-role in There’s Something About Mary. His songs are just one highlight.
For the first half of the show – and it’s so hard to describe this without spoiling it – it’s about the intricacies of the mundane. Context is not fully explained, nor needed, we see actors switching in and out and we’re never quite clear of the full relationships between them – it’s impressionistic, they’re signposts in a sense. But what they are doing is showing us how a house becomes a home.
We’re part of it too – the audience. And eventually not just as bystanders.
I thought of Andy Kaufman’s Carnegie Hall show as in the final third of the show more and more of the audience appeared on stage in various improvised roles, a whisper on the way up from one of the actors, a bit of a costume or a prop handed out. The scene is a party – and it includes graduation and birthdays, a wedding, the various reasons you might celebrate.
Sobelle is like Dr Moreau as court jester – controlling it all, the madcap laughing.
Perkins continues to provide the songs. The main professional cast now coaches, teasing out the frivolities from the makeshift scene-makers in a show that can never ever be performed the same way twice.
At the heart here are some deep philosophical questions: Who are we – and what are we about? What is the place where we live? Does it help define us? Do we encourage it on its journey from house to home. What makes a home? Who makes a home? When does the building of a house or home stop? What is the difference? What little differences do we make to it and does it make to us?
In the end we can spot at least some of the answers. More importantly we’re given the platform – the space – to continue thinking.
I’ve never seen a show like this. And I’m sure I’ll never quite see anything like this again. First class, the whole way. Not just a highlight of this festival but one of the greatest festival shows I’ve seen in some 20 years of attendance.
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