A ONE-MAN play performed by an illusionist amid a sea of cardboard boxes has won the most coveted theatre prize at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Performance artist Geoff Sobelle’s show will be heading from a tiny room at Summerhall arts centre to the Brooklyn Academy of Music after scooping the prestigious Carol Tambor Award.
The announcement that Sobelle had become the 10th winner of the prize, created by an American painter and arts philanthropist who visits the festival every year, was the culmination of the annual Scotsman Fringe Awards ceremony, also being held for the 10th time.
The Los Angeles performer’s show - The Object Lesson - had already been named one of the winners of Scotsman’s Fringe First Award, presented to acts and companies for new work being staged at the festival.
But now it will be heading to New York, after being chosen by a panel headed up by Ms Tambor, and also including The Scotsman’s chief theatre critic Joyce McMillan, who presented the ceremony, was helped by Irish singer-songwriter Camille O’Sullivan, who also opened and closed the show.
The Object Lesson will have a plum slot at the Next Wave Festival, New York’s biggest showcase for live performance art, in November where Ms Tambor’s theatrical foundation will be meeting the costs of staging the show there.
Sobelle uses everyday objects, including some borrowed from unsuspecting audience members, to build a show about why human beings insisted on hanging onto so much from their past. Although the set appears to be a picture of chaos, it has actually been carefully prepared by Sobelle.
Ms Tambor said he had created “a magical world, created out of thin air with a few props and cardboard boxes.”
She added: “We are invited to enter Geoff Sobelle’s mind and memories, which are filled with humour, gentleness and deft conjuring. Its stillness and nostalgia has stayed with me since I was privileged to be part of his universe.”
Sobelle, who describes himself as an “actor-illusionist-inventor”, is a member of both the Society of American Magicians and the Magic Castle in Hollywood. He missed out on the awards ceremony as he was on stage at Summerhall, where his show can be seen until Sunday.
However, speaking earlier, he told The Scotsman: “Although there is some magic in it, there’s no way you come out of it thinking you’ve seen a magic show. It’s a piece of performance art.
“The whole show is about our relationship with everyday things and the attachment we have to them. It really is about the audience as much as it is about me.
“This is my seventh time performing at the Fringe - I first came here in 1999, so it’s amazing to hear I’ve won this award. I can’t honestly believe it.”
Three other major honours were revealed at the awards ceremony, which was staged at the Famous Spiegeltent’s latest home in promoter Tommy Sheppard’s new Fringe arena in St Andrew Square Garden.
The other plum prize of a slot at the Adelaide Fringe, Australia’s answer to Edinburgh’s long-running extravaganza, was given to two different shows by the Holden Street Theatres company.
Assembly’s Blood at the Root, one of the most timely shows at this year’s Fringe, explores the simmering racial tension at a Louisiana high school.
The show, staged by Penn State School of Theatre, Pennsylvania, was inspired by the true story of six black teenagers charged with the attempted murder of a white student.
Mush and Me, at the Underbelly, charts the events that unfold when a Jewish girl falls for a Muslim boy.
Actress Daniella Isaacs, star of Mush and Me, said:
“This all started with a coffee beteen the director Rosie Banham and the writer Kalra Crome and now we’re off to Australia. It’s been the most amazing experience.”
The Arches, the acclaimed performing arts venue in Glasgow, will also be playing host to a revival of two Fringe shows, which both received its Brick Award.
The Christeene Machine, at Underbelly, was described as “a gender-blending, booty-pounding perversion of punk dragged through a musical theatre gutter.”
This Is How We Die, a solo spoken word show by Christopher Brett Bailey, part of Forest Fringe’s entirely free programme of theatre.
Bailey admitted 50 audience members had walked out of his show, which he described as a “prime slice of surrealist trash, an Americana death trip and a dizzying exorcism for a world convinced it is dying”.
Heading to the Brighton Fringe will be Bucket Club’s Lorraine and Alan, a play at the Pleasance, a modern retelling of the myth of the selkie, from Celtic folklore.
Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland, who helped present the Carol Tambor Award, said: “Awards are a great part of why people come to the Fringe, to get a life for their work elsewhere.
“It is the artists, companies, venues and producers that make this festival happen. People come here because they want to - and they do it themselves.”
The ceremony also saw the presentation of the final round of this year’s Fringe First Awards, with the audience also being treated to an excerpt from one show - No Guts, No Heart, No Glory. Evie Manning’s production, about a group of five young female Asian boxers, is being staged at a real-life ring in the Craigmillar housing estate outwith the city centre.
Also honoured with a Fringe First were Letters Home, the first major theatrical production commissioned by the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which joined forces with theatre company Grid Iron for a site specific piece set in a series of buildings around Charlotte Square.
The other new Fringe First winners recognised were Hand Made In China: Moons, Migration and Messages, at Summerhall, Rosie Wyatt’s monologue at the Underbelly, Spine, Rebecca Hill’s play Travesti, at the Pleasance Dome and Pondling, Genevieve Hulme-Beaman’s one-woman play at Underbelly.
Meanwhile O’Sullivan, one of the biggest stars on the Fringe since making her debut as part of the hit cabaret show La Clique in 2004, told the audience that the Fringe was like no other festival in the world.
She said: “It keeps you on your toes coming here.
“You do all your successes and failures right in front of the audience and they are your guage to measure who you are as a performer.
“You always have a certain amount of fear coming back. It gets more difficult as you feel you have a lot to prove.”
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs until Monday.