As distant ragtime echoes around the darkened room, on a bare set of stretched linen screens and the wooden box and tripod of a hand cranked camera, two half glimpsed figures wait beneath the waves with only a coffee pot of air between them as they advance with fluid movement towards shore bearing with them their own spotlights.
They are Don Strømgren and Gnu Cunningham, played by Jannik Elkær and Kristoffer Louis Andrup Pedersen, choreographers and principal dancers of the Danish physical theatre company Don Gnu, returning to the Edinburgh Fringe following last year’s Dancebase hit M.I.S. – All Night Long. Now housed in Adam House on Chambers Street, the hard floors may be less amenable to tumbles but the auditorium emphasises the theatrical aspects which drive A Snowball’s Chance in Hell.
This year fully dressed following the scant socks and sandals of their previous visit, in flat caps and working mens’ suits speaking of an age of hard industry these are not the typical lithe frames of dancers but instead archetypes of masculinity, barefoot, bearded and solidly built yet with flexibility and exertions testing the limits of the strong seams of their tight costumes.
Segueing into silent movie melodrama at times it is almost Singing in the Rain with all the dance numbers but none of the singing as it considers the shifting priorities of a new medium, here filming versus live performance, the demands of the camera lens set against an audience, but regardless certain rules still apply – find your light, hit your mark, face forward, give the director what he wants.
A performance which could not be more different from the broad pantomime shenanigans and live synthpop musical accompaniment of M.I.S. – All Night Long, there is still humour as the two men alternately compete with and encourage each other, playfully adapting what is to hand to the needs of the moment.
Stripped back down to a two piece outfit the pair make other characters from the objects around them, the freewheeling camera tripod becoming a puppet, and an unruly one at that, while in other moments there is contrast between the two as Pedersen dances in backlit silhouette while Elkær sits alone beholding the unexpected contents of his coffee pot.
Against a gentle backdrop of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue raising hemlines are teased and gender expectations are confounded before thundering shifts in the tempo return the duo to the slapstick fisticuffs which they enjoy so much; bold, brash and baffling, it is a proud and welcome return to the bizarre world of Don Gnu.