What happens when we break away from convention, from our hometown, our political norms, the people we love? What becomes of us? What becomes of the people, places and ideas we leave behind, or try to leave behind? Can we ever really escape where we've come from?
These are the questions at the centre of Floating, an Edinburgh Fringe Festival hit that has been touring the world and made its Canadian debut at Vancouver's PuSh International Performing Arts Festival on Thursday night, before heading to Victoria and Toronto.
It's April 1 (get it?) 1982, in Margaret Thatcher's Britain. As a man prepares to leave the Welsh island of Anglesey, where he grew up, an earthquake causes the island to break away, floating so far north that the would-be emigrant becomes frozen - paralyzed.
It all sounds pretty heavy.
But Floating is in fact light, funny; a 90-minute (slightly longer on opening night), fourth-wall-destroying, interactive extravaganza that is utterly entertaining and every now and then ventures into side-splitting territory.
As his alter-ego Hugh Hughes, co-creator/performer Shon Dale-Jones both guides the audience through the story and acts the part of Hughes trying to leave the island. Charming, charismatic and very comfortable in his persona's skin (at times, exposed - or covered up, hilariously, by a modesty towel), Dale-Jones earns the audience's trust and affection as he takes them on a ride that is unexpected and unfamiliar.
With quotes projected on a screen behind the stage from the likes of Primo Levi and Luis Bunuel, Floating is also an exploration of the impact of imagination and fantasy on memory, on what we think of as the truth. Can there be varying degrees of truth? Is truth not absolute?
For instance, the program credits Hughes, not Dale-Jones in the co-creator/performer role. Is this a lie? Or a version of the truth? Or is Dale-Jones merely playing with his audience? Hughes, after all, is his creation.
It sounds somewhat cerebral, but the show plays out more like stand-up comedy than philosophy, as Dale-Jones cracks what appear to be spontaneous jokes, and pokes gentle fun at some audience members (try not to cackle too loudly or leave for the washroom if you don't want to be heckled).
But there is serious business at the heart of this tall tale, beginning with the love of a boy for his grandmother, now deceased.
As the audience enters, a woman is sitting on stage, knitting. Come show time, we learn that she is Hughes's grandmother and it is her house where the action begins, the home Hughes will later leave on his thwarted trip off the island.
The grandmother is played by Sioned Rowlands, who created the show with Dale-Jones. Seamlessly transforming into a variety of characters (Hughes's best friend, his abusive schoolmaster), Rowlands also plays a version of herself and as such operates the mostly lo-fi multimedia show (slide projector, turntable, megaphone - but also PowerPoint) and connects with the audience, as Hughes's smiling, understated sidekick - her persona defined by utter competence and a quiet, dimpled modesty.
There were a couple of technical glitches on opening night, but they were handled so deftly by Dale-Jones and Rowlands that they added to the romp.
As the audience leaves, Rowlands and Dale-Jones stand by the door, handing out buttons and interacting with audience members on a more intimate level. By this point, we feel we know them. But of course, we don't. We only know their story.
- Created and performed by Shon Dale-Jones and Sioned Rowlands
- At the Arts Club Theatre Company's Revue Stage in Vancouver
Floating is at the Arts Club's Revue Stage in Vancouver until Feb. 5 ( pushfestival.ca; artsclub.com); at Intrepid Theatre's Metro Studio in Victoria Feb. 10 and 11 ( intrepidtheatre.com) and at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto Feb. 15-19 ( harbourfrontcentre.com).