All Wear Bowlers

I have mixed feelings about All Wear Bowlers, which I saw tonight at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta (as part of the Sydney Festival).

The premise for the show is two “silent film” actors who make the transition, literally, from the screen to the stage and back again.

As the show opened (late), we watched maybe 5 or 10 minutes of two “silent film” characters in bowler hats wandering about on a projected screen.

Progressively, however, the actors make the transition from the screen to the stage. The transition, which showed the actors going back and forward behind a screen on which they appeared was both truly creatively inspired and extraordinarily well-enacted and choreographed.

Employing a lot of slapstick conventions, they ripped up paper, they swallowed and regurgitated eggs and generally, kept us laughing. As the rest of the audience was enjoying the slapstick, I personally lost interest. I’m not a great fan of slapstick and I’m not a great fan of mime, but that’s “my stuff”, while the rest of the audience was having a great old time.

I have to say, though, many of the stunts were well-enacted, demonstrating an incredible physicality. I also thought “the ventriloquist sketch” was a truly inspired reversioning of a familiar theme of one actor as ventriloquist, the other as dummy. For a while it was really funny and really well-enacted, but as the dummy, however, took over, I though the sketch became more self-indulgent and less-audience focussed, reflecting ehat I didn’t like about the show.

However, I thought there were some really brilliant moments in this show. I thought some aspects of illusion reminded me of the European acts such as Phillipe Genty. But then other aspects reminded me of some dumb-arse American sitcoms. I suppose it’s a good thing that a show could work on both levels, or maybe I’m being a bit soft? But as I said, I have mixed feelings about the show… some of it was truly inspired, wonderfully funny and well-enacted, while some of it was boring, inane and self-indulgent.

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