Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Absolutely Reliable! is a piece of dark clowning featuring a character – George – created using trance mask techniques.
It is written and performed by Ralf Wetzel and co-written/ directed by Lee Delong.
Watching Ralf Wetzel‘s performance in Absolutely Reliable! Is an intense experience, especially when his interaction with the audience is focused on a small number of us.
From the offset Wetzel’s character Goerge is a strange mix of funny and unsettling. He is dressed in shorts (his underpants with their jazzy flip-flop pattern showing through an undone fly), pink wig and blouse, and a lime green tank top that is too small, revealing his midriff.
George’s physicality is awkward, hunched. His energy almost child-like. Wetzel’s face is partly obscured by a half- (or perhaps a quarter-) mask, which turns his mouth into something a little goofy. George speaks; for this is trance-mask territory – a technique devised by Keith Johnstone and developed by practitioners such as Steve Jarand, with whom Wetzel has trained.
George is a storyteller, recounting the surprising (to him) story of his romantic liaison with the sensual Josephine. Wetzel sveltely shifts in and out of Josephine’s physique. It seems he has found true love; a gentle touch. But his path does not run smooth. There are problems, and we begin to understand the irony of exclaiming George “Reliable!”. There is a break up and a coming back together; a growing frustration with Josephine’s excessive breakfast demands; a sexual fantasy about the elusive Manfred; badly managed office politics. As the tale develops it (and George) becomes more sinister; more surreal.
Wetzel’s emotional engagement with his audience is palpable, and we can’t help but empathise. Yet at the same time there is something ominous about his impulsive neediness; something hilariously discomforting about his sensuality on stage, the way he mounts and strokes a chair.
Of course, things don’t end well, and there is a dark and nicely elliptical ending in sight.
In this kind of work there is often a tricky balance between plot and spontaneity. Wetzel brings a freshness to the moment. His subtle responses to the Festival fireworks outside – and the crash of an item that falls down backstage – are delightful. The story overall is clear, but there is a lot of it, and a few narrative wrinkles – perhaps the results of a freeform devising process. A little more explanation might tidy up those gaps, but I suspect it would work better to simplify the story a little instead and let the moments speak.
One of very few pieces of mask work in this year’s fringe, Absolutely Reliable! is a deliciously dark tale, engagingly delivered.
It is on at C-Cubed at 22.00 until 25 August.
Times are tough for George. He’s a middle class, middle-aged, straight, white man. George is on a madcap journey to find what he desires – a gentle touch, a glance of recognition, a true female embrace. But just when everything’s within reach, George is thrown into a turmoil of love and loss, desire and fear, anger and relief, turning his insides out and his upside down. A sinister, rollicking tale about the down and dark sides of menkind and about what remains after the fall. Directed and co-written by award-winning (Les Molières, 2019) director and actress Lee Delong.