I had the pleasure of attending a showing of The Number 14, by the Axis Theatre Company, this week at the Evergreen Cultural Centre. Set entirely on a bus, this play takes the weird and mundane transit experiences we’ve all had and spins them into hilarious sketches. After touring for 20 years, this play has gained a substantial amount of success both locally and internationally; from performing at Vancouver’s beloved Arts Club to traveling as far away as Hong Kong! It is no coincidence that with its relatability and impeccable comedic timing, this play has continued to entertain audiences for as long as it has.
The intricate masks and costumes, by Melody Anderson and Nancy Bryant, were a necessary component for the success of this play. Without these materials the show, with its humble cast of six, would not be able to so smoothly portray the dozens of characters it did. The unbelievably speedy transitions, from one costume to another, made me appreciate the actors that much more. One scene in particular, where the cast gradually transforms from a senile group of passengers into a rowdy bunch of kindergartners really stood out to me. This brisk shift from character to character can be attributed to the wardrobe changes in conjunction with the brilliant acting required to pull them off.
A few sketches that really stood out to me include: an acrobatic grandma, know it all construction worker, schizophrenic seat switcher and two overly chatty school girls. Of course there were plenty of memorable moments in the play including a rap about transit, a group of silent vandalizing hoodlums and robotic dancing business men. These last three in particular describe the versatility of the show by incorporating original song as well as a dance, allowing the show to remain unpredictable. The nostalgia of slapstick – à la Charlie Chaplin – and Monty Python type comedy made for a flawless mix of hilarity. The ability to create such a large scope of scenarios and characters with the use of a single setting is a remarkable feat that has definitely not gone unnoticed, judging by the crowds that continue to return year after year.
As with any sketch based show (think Saturday Night Live), there will always be characters and scenarios that are preferred to others. This favouritism is an inevitable part of sketch comedy and ultimately works in its favour. The constantly changing scenarios means the play can tickle a wider range of funny bones and therefore satisfying more audience members. I can say that there were sketches that had me in stitches while others did not, however this is the beauty of sketch comedy and the reason why The Number 14 is something you can take your best friend or your grandmother to.
After a Twenty year run this bus’s wheels are coming to a halt, so don’t forget to check them out at the Waterfront Theatre from October 23 to November 18 this fall! You, your best friend and your grandma won’t regret it!