Fringe favourite Geoff Sobelle heads to the International Festival, where his latest piece builds a two-storey house on stage every night to bring everyone together under one roof: the home.
Building a two-storey house on stage every day is no mean feat, but it’s one that Geoff Sobelle and his company will undertake each night at the King’s Theatre for the run of HOME, a show co-commissioned by the Edinburgh International Festival.
“We’re a ragged little outfit, and trying to find a way to make a great spectacle on this scale has been challenging,” admits Sobelle, who at one point during the piece’s making didn’t just want to build a house, but wanted it to collapse and fall apart too. Just in time he realised “that was another show entirely.”
Sorting the good ideas from the impossible ones — what theatre-maker Emma Rice once described as knowing the difference between “strong” and “wrong” — is part of the long process for Sobelle’s non-script-based pieces. His shows will be familiar to Edinburgh Fringe audiences from Flesh and Blood and Fish and Fowl at the Traverse in 2010, and the brilliantly engaging, multi-award-winning The Object Lesson at Summerhall in 2014.
The Object Lesson — a show in which Geoff Sobelle wryly commented on “the thin line between vintage and crap”— probed our relationship with stuff, and the objects, emotions and memories that we accumulate over a lifetime. It was inspired by a period when Sobelle’s own life was in upheaval and most of his possessions were packed up in boxes.
“I’m not super logical or rational when I am making something. Everything I do springs from a gut feeling, an instinct. I have got to have a personal connection to the material or I can’t make the show,” says Geoff Sobelle.
HOME takes its inspiration from the 100-year-old house Sobelle lived in in Philadelphia, where he discovered traces of previous occupants in the dents on the walls and the layers of linoleum on the kitchen floor.
“Removing the layers of linoleum was like an archaeological excavation,” recalls Sobelle, “and it made me imagine all the people who had lived there before me. It had once been their home and now it was mine and at some point in the future, someone else would call it their home.” It also made him ponder on the differences between a house and a home.
Geoff Sobelle’s work takes him away on tour a great deal, but the theatre is the place that he most thinks of as home. Arriving at each new theatre, “feels like taking a boat into port, a safe haven,” he says. Making each of his shows is a slow, painstaking process of assembling a like-minded family around him who come together to work collaboratively and create a piece that is as much sculpted as it is written.
HOME features an illusion designer and a choreographer as well as a scenic designer and a director. Geoff Sobelle also turned to his sister Stefanie Sobelle, an academic specialising in the intersections between art and architecture, to work as dramaturg, and his Los Angeles high school friend, Elvis Perkins, to provide the songs. Perkins, the folk-rock singing son of Psycho star Anthony, describes his wandering troubadour role as being that of “a one-man Greek choral figure who comes and goes, commenting on what is happening.”
If Flesh and Blood and Fish and Fowl could be read as a savage absurdist comedy about the environment, and The Object Lesson seen as a comment on consumerism, then HOME can be interpreted in numerous ways. Perhaps as a metaphor for the way we are only temporary custodians of the planet, to a meditation on Trump’s desire to build walls to keep people out, and Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis.
“It’s meant something different everywhere we have taken it,” says Geoff Sobelle. “But ultimately it’s about how we share space and how we welcome people into that space. It’s ultimately about love and taking care of other people. I think of the whole evening as a theatrically geeky way of trying to get people to go to a party. What I hope happens is that people go into the theatre as strangers and come out as a congregation as our pulses and hearts come together and start beating together. It’s a sneaky way of getting people to bond with strangers without realising that is what’s happening.”
WHERE & WHEN
HOME, King’s Theatre 22-26 August, times vary, from £17