Adelaide Festival review: Air Play

The reliable combination of colour and movement is the key to Air Play, which focuses on skilled miming duo the Acrobuffos and their use of fascinating props.

Mar 16, 2023, updated Mar 16, 2023
Colourful fabric swirls, dances and falls during the Acrobuffos' enchanting show 'Air Play'. Photo: Florence Montmare

Colourful fabric swirls, dances and falls during the Acrobuffos' enchanting show 'Air Play'. Photo: Florence Montmare

Children’s laughter played just before the performing duo appears is instantly echoed by several kids in the audience on opening night. That infectious nature is a hallmark of this entertaining family show, directed by West Hyler.

Air Play, created and performed by Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone, is a series of evolving vignettes that represent childish moods via clever mime and use of props rather than through overt acrobatics. It looks directly for audience reaction and, sometimes, their deliberate involvement ­– but more of that shortly.

An early moment of gentle interplay between Bloom (in red) and Gelsone (in yellow) involves two small similarly colour-coded items: a balloon and a feather. It offers a telling moment of connection. Helium balloons prove ideal toys for what follows next.

Air Play balances comedy, sculpture, circus and theatre. Photo: Florence Montmare

Soon, a large and lightweight latex cloth dances hypnotically, driven in the air by a circle of electric fans that is employed in many of the short, related acts to lift various props into the space above the stage. That choreography as the cloth rises and falls and swirls is enchanting.

The show is mostly about wonder and awe, especially with the way the pair handles the sailing fabric that seems to almost fill the venue at times. There is constant switching between this and the delights of discovering balloon play, but an “I want what you’ve got” mood periodically asserts itself with the latter. The sense of pleasure is overshadowed at such times by the characters’ rivalry. Competition overtakes co-operation with enacting of childish sentiments that we would likely all recognise.

Nonetheless, there’s a real sense of fun throughout, including frequent teasing of audience members and joking with them, albeit silently. Neither performer is shy about climbing over the rows of seats in different routines; stealing the occasional sip of wine, kissing bald heads, and leaning on a few people in the process.

One such act is built around Bloom trying to retrieve a “lost” balloon by using a handheld electric fan (hold on to your hair), and another sees Gelsone endeavouring to recover a larger, wayward balloon. Audience members loved both, especially as there is a chance to be directly involved.

And then we are back to the balletic grace of the sailing cloth, an interval that ushers in another scramble for dominance before a literally larger switch occurs. Suddenly a balloon prop is produced that is as tall as an adult. As the performers touch it, fragments of music are intriguingly associated with their actions.

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The fans are used again, this time to lift a host of objects of different colours and shapes, conjuring a night sky full of glittering stars. The accompanying musical excerpt fittingly suggests Gustav Holst’s suite The Planets. Speaking of which, the contribution of internationally renowned kinetic sculptor Daniel Wurtzel has to be mentioned for his clever work throughout.

Back to big balloons, but now they become costumes in a spellbinding way, flipping their previous relationship with Bloom and Gelsone. The clowning duo is inside the balloons, controlling – or trying to control – their latex apparel in a number of ways, not altogether successfully but evoking much laughter. Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” is used to great comic effect.

A large white latex cloth is gracefully loosed and masterfully manipulated, billowing parachute-style to the evocative, traditional choral tune “Cuckoo!” and then the balloon and a feather return, but the pair’s separation seems imminent. Still, there is hope, as Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” suggests in closing the show.

Physical clowning from Bloom and Gelsone, plus colour, movement and wonderful lighting (Jeanne Koenig), produces a bold and very winning hour of circus-like entertainment suitable for all ages.

Air Play continues at the Festival Theatre until March 19.

Read more Adelaide Festival coverage here on InReview.

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