Geoff Sobelle is at home in New York. The Lecoq-trained theatrical auteur and performer is having an all too rare day off in his Brooklyn apartment before bringing his latest creation to Edinburgh. That too is called Home, and by the time it opens this week as part of Edinburgh International Festival, his real home will be lying empty while he passes through another room which a million other lives have passed through, a permanent transient, as is the lot of show people on tour. Onstage, Sobelle will be building something that goes beyond bricks and mortar to leave its mark in other ways.
“For a long time the show was called House and Home,” says Sobelle, slowly easing himself into the day. “I wanted to play with ideas of house and home, and how we can often confuse the two, even though they’re not the same. The show is about the way we think we’re building a home when actually we’re just building a house, and don’t really pay attention to what a building has been. The notion of home is more mysterious, and harder to define. It’s more of a spirit/soul.
“I imagine living in Edinburgh, where the houses are so old, you can’t help but think about the people who lived there before you, as well as the people who will come after you. I bought an old house in Philadelphia, and I would think a lot about the residents who were there before me. I remember lifting up the floor and finding these old linoleum tiles. There was layer on layer of tiles put there by the people whose home it was before me. Now here we were, sharing space with people who came before in the same way that the people who came after would share space with us.”
The result of this in Home sees Sobelle build a fully-functioning des-res that comes complete with working stove and toilet. More significantly, Home is a show in which the audience become key players as they are invited in to Sobelle’s world.
“It’s a big house party,” says Sobelle. “A central part of the show is seeing people’s daily routines through time, but it’s also about people living on top of each other, and through that finding a whole different way of working with an audience. If done badly, audience participation can be the worst thing in the world, so we had to figure out how to do that in a way that would be really lovely. Building a real house onstage from scratch is a high risk thing to do, but we bring the bare bones, and then the audience make the show.”
The roots of what sounds like a playful and inclusive form of social sculpture go back to Sobelle’s early days at Lecoq.
“The thing I got excited about while I was there was behaviour,” Sobelle says. “We say a lot of things before we open our mouths and start talking. The absurdist thing always tickled me as well. My heroes are Jacques Tati, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. They’re like living cartoons. What they do is funny, but it's also smart."
Sobelle’s previous sojourns to Edinburgh have been on the Fringe, with his shows, Flesh and Blood and Fish and Fowl in 2010, and The Object Lesson in 2014. While both mined a similar mix of physicality and absurdism as Home, with seven people onstage including singer Elvis Perkins, this new work is by far the biggest thing Sobelle has done. Which, in a way, reflects everyday aspirations for an ever bigger dream home.
“I think for a lot of audiences, the theatre becomes a kind of home,” says Sobelle. “Watching a show becomes a home, and that’s about the people. Myself, I feel more at home with these weird artists and theatre people than I do in my apartment in New York. Although,” he says, “I love my apartment.”
Home, King’s Theatre, August 22-25, 8pm, August 25-26, 3pm.
The Herald, August 21st 2018