This knotty and stimulating multimedia show created and performed by Lekan Lawal is so jam-packed that it is hard to know where to start. That’s partly the point that Lawal, artistic director of Eclipse theatre company, is making. The pilot of the title is the TV kind – one of those tentative beginnings designed to encapsulate the idea for a successful series but that sometimes lead nowhere. The show looks at how we package ourselves – the first impressions we make as well as the internalised beliefs that are insidiously sparked by others.
Lawal goes for an unassuming introduction and begins seated among the audience. With an an easy smile and minimal cajoling he gets six of us alongside him on an impromptu dancefloor. It loosens us up, ready to add our own memories to his patchwork of firsthand and fictional stories that blur the boundaries of personal life and pop culture.
In a series of not-quite sketches across the hour, Lawal acts out frustrations at pitching artistic projects that don’t fit the requirements of unseen gatekeepers, each proposal shot down with a dismissive buzzer before it’s fully articulated. There are questions, confessions, half-ideas, theories, a powerful dance solo and more audience games riffing on related themes of representation and erasure, shame and pride, family and belonging.
We’re almost in standup territory when he imagines Icarus and his dad making wings from Nando’s, or offers material on weddings resembling the end of a war, with two sides split down the middle and treaties signed. He has an ebullience and vulnerability that match Yaisa’s superb performance in Mwansa Phiri’s play Waiting for a Train at the Bus Stop, which is also part of the Eclipse season at Summerhall.
With its mix of projections, live camera feed and roving lighting design, Pilot mashes up forms and its splintered storytelling could well be found frustrating. To me it felt like rummaging around the rooms of an exhibition, making connections between the pieces. Some remain elusive or pass by without impact but many connect profoundly and the final scenes in particular leave a lasting impression.