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Edinburgh Fringe 2019

Absolutely Reliable!

Ralf Wetzel

Genre: Comedy, Mask, Theatre

Venue: C Cubed


Low Down

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.