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Festival Feature: Ryan Lane & Elf Lyons

Ashling Findlay-Carroll speaks with the creators of Hilda & the Spectrum.

Ryan Lane and Elf Lyons met while studying at L’Ecole Philippe Gaulier in Etampes just outside of Paris. It was during a character workshop as part of their two-year course that the characters of Hilda and Mr Smith, who we meet in Hilda & the Spectrum, were born.

They speak of the time when they decided to work together, and the importance of ‘complicite’ between two performers, which Ryan describes as ‘the ability to have that magic spark with someone on stage’. It is clear that they have this rapport, both on and off stage, and that with these characters, they are playing a game that is, as Elf aptly puts it, “Such fun”.

The premise of the piece is that Hilda, an East German tour guide living in London, and Mr Smith, a mysterious old man, have come to Edinburgh to present a play about how the characters met. The actors they enlisted to help (Ryan & Elf) haven’t turned up and so they are left to pick up the pieces. It is clear from the start that they are not actors and as the two attempt to retell the tale, they dip in and out of the story, digressing to wildly bizarre and wonderful places as they go.

When asked about how they came up with ideas for the show, they talk about creating a detailed world for the characters to exist in on the wall of Ryan’s bedroom in the house they shared while studying. It sounds like a hugely fun process, where all they had to do was ‘just come up with things that make each other laugh, and then try it’. Not precious about their work, and open to it changing and developing, they thrive on the challenge of feeding off the audience, excitedly explaining, ‘Our show is always going to keep changing and developing and we have really come with this idea of “let’s see how the month goes”, and what happens to our show, happens to our show’. The pair are very much up for the challenge of performing in a makeshift venue, which is so true of the fringe, with little lighting and a narrow performance space, and seem happy to adapt both the show and themselves to meet all of these obstacles head on, describing it as ‘fun that way’.

There is much talk of games—a characteristic of Gaulier’s teaching—in our chat and in these characters, that is exactly what they are doing: playing a really fun game. When asked about this they very accurately state that ‘All theatre is a game. Chekov is a game, Shakespeare is a game, clowning is a game’. In their performances, we see them playing various games, pushing each other with improvised moments and new ideas constantly. As an audience, it is so obvious that they are having a good time, and this carries us along with them through lists of lost tourists and stories of great sporting achievements, culminating in a hilarious Grease Medley, done like I have never seen it before.

They describe the show as ’so silly’ and packed full of cultural references like ‘the Gilmour Girls…on acid’. There is a rebellious feel to the work that has been cultivated throughout their time spent with Gaulier: they talk directly to the audience, encouraging us to get involved in their extraordinary adventure and be just as silly as they are. Despite its generally light feel, there are moments that come through under the laughter that reveal what these characters really are: two lonely people who meet by accident and probably desperately need each other.

When discussing what’s next for the duo, they plan on continuing to create work and subscribe to the idea that ‘you don’t wait around for the other man to find you a job’. They have some ideas in the pipeline, including the prospect of a fellow Gaulier graduate writing a play featuring the two characters from the show. But generally, they want to carry on as they had when they started with this show, by having ‘a really nice, bloody time doing what makes us giggle’.

Hilda & the Spectrum is on at Voodoo Rooms (Venue 68), at 19:50pm and Elf Lyons’ solo show ‘Swan’ is on at Underbelly Med Quad (Venue 302), at 21:30pm, until 28th August.

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