VICTORIA FRINGE FESTIVAL 2012 – REVIEWS
When it comes to theatre, things are never just black and white—except at Victoria’s 2012 Fringe Festival, which is sporting a zebra theme this year. But while the mascot may be monochromatic, the festival itself is still in glorious, living colour. With 56 shows spread over eight (well, technically nine) venues, and productions hailing from as close as Mile Zero and as distant as Japan, Australia, Ireland, England, the US and Israel, you’ve got a whole bright world of entertainment at your front door.
Once again, we here at CVV Magazine are tackling the entire Fringe Festival for you. Big or small, musical or drama, funny or just downright weird, check back here throughout the Fringe to see reviews of everything as they roll in. But don’t just take our word for it—see as many shows as you can. Remember, any review is just one person’s opinion, and even if we don’t particularly like it, any show could be the show for you. Like we all tell our kids, if you don’t try it, how will you know if you like it or not?
Don’t forget the Fringe basics: pick up a program guide or visit the Fringe site to get the full lineup of shows and venues, and don’t forget to grab your $5 Fringe button (you’ll need both a button and a ticket to get into any show). Check back here frequently—we’ll be posting reviews throughout the festival—and be sure to keep up on any program updates or show changes too.
The Fringe runs daily through to September 2, so do your part to keep Victoria fringy—get out there and Fringe, everyone!
Know your reviewers
We all know how frustrating reviews can be, especially when they’re only signed with a pair of initials. (“F.U.? Why should I believe anyone who signs in as F.U.?”) With that in mind, here’s a quick guide to CVV’s Fringe reviewing team.
Erin Anderson balances a full-time marketing gig with Fringe reviewing and other freelance projects, including photography.
Jason Schreurs is an editor and freelance arts writer who went on an epic Fringe bender last year. He’s back for more this year!
John Threlfall has spent most of his adult life involved with live theatre in some form or another, whether as a stage manager, theatre critic, board member or arts writer. He’s currently the communications honcho for UVic’s Fine Arts faculty and is a regular theatre writer for CVV Magazine. 2012 marks his 11th straight year reviewing the Fringe. Woo!
Melanie Tromp Hoover loves thumping musicals and eloquently tangled theatrical monologues. As a long-time arts supporter in Victoria, she holds theatre as the ultimate anything-can-happen storytelling experience. She balances a communications gig at UVic with freelance writing projects and many a volunteer hour in the theatre world, including a board member role with local favourite Atomic Vaudeville.
Grace Threlfall is a nine-year-old theatre fan who’s been going to shows with her reviewer dad for a few years now. Even though she’s young, she’s already seen over two dozen plays and ballets, and enjoys taking her own notebook to productions. She reviewed some of the children’s programming for last year’s Fringe and is back again this year for a couple more. She has now done six reviews for CVV Magazine—not bad for nine!
We will be adding reviews as they come in throughout the festival so check back often!
Reviews are listed alphabetically by show title.
If you’re looking for high-calibre performance art and an intimately engaging solo show, be sure to dive into the imagination of Vanessa Quesnelle in The Abyss Burrow.
With detailed bits of descriptive prose, generous wit and gorgeous physicality, Quesnelle spends 45 minutes curating a series of memories—childhood banter between siblings, first love, lost love and the wisdom our grandparents give us—from the bottom of a dark and drippy pit. In every dreamy sequence there’s something that’s just a little bit off, and what seems at first like random (but beautiful and entirely relatable) pieces of a life flashing before your eyes neatly wraps up into a sharp and haunting close under an appropriately harsh white spotlight.
Quesnelle is beautiful to watch and is a strong, confident performer. She deftly flits between reveries with sharp, music-driven movement and thoughtful contrast lighting (which she also designed). Bare staging and all-black dancewear round out the vulnerability of our faithful steward and tight scripting keeps the fantastical side of this piece on course.
The first words uttered in The Abyss Burrow are “something’s different”—a line that doubles as an apropos two-word review for this unique little journey through the pockets of life that we all can relate to.
Find out more about The Abyss Burrow HERE
Really good children’s productions take into account the needs of a younger viewing audience without pandering to the youngest (two?) or alienating the oldest (me?). Story Theatre Company’s production of Aladdin’s Secret Voyage is a fun-time romp with marvellous acting, wondrous costumes and a perfectly updated script. The three players work together to pace the short show in a way that keeps the audience on the edges of their seats—or their mothers’ knees, whatever the case may be. And although the show ends rather abruptly, there’s a clever reason for that too, I think. The story does get a little intense at times (the genie terrified me, and I’m long out of diapers, thank goodness), so having some well-placed theatre games at the end of the show to cool things down is an ace move.
Find out more info about Aladdin’s Secret Voyage HERE
If demonic possession, chills or the age-old science versus faith debate is your cup of communion wine, consider popping Alone—a new play by local writer R. Matthew S.—into your Fringe lineup. Though it’s still in its workshop stage, the 75-minute Catholic thriller (yes, that’s a real thing) is properly hair-raising and mostly well-acted.
We start out with two Fathers in a church study trying to unravel the mystery of what happened to young Peter (Michael Bell), a 14-year-old boy who’s been bleeding from his eyes and throwing fits in Latin off and on since the week prior. Father Daniel (David MacPherson) plays the insanity card, insisting that his special friend Peter merely needs a therapist while Father Elliott (Alex Frankson), who doubles as an exorcist, is convinced that all of the boy’s strange behaviour adds up to a clear case of Satanic possession. It’s a play that pits Father against Father, faith against reason, amiable Peter against a darkness within him—and it does so with all of the requisite creepster innuendo, jumpy moments and lights-out theatrics you’d expect in a horror play.
Bell’s transitions between meek Peter and his ‘other half’ are immaculate and his scenes with Frankson alone were tremendous. The bits of explanatory prose—told in monologue mostly from Father Elliott’s Irish-accented point of view—are as poetic as they are affecting in their search for truth in an environment that demands blind faith. Props were put to good use here, particularly in a Mary Poppins-esque bag of cryptic exorcising equipment, and the set design—replete with cozy velvet chairs and a homey throw rug—conveyed safety in a very dark place.
The only weak link—and it was a major distraction from my angle—was MacPherson’s reliance on having a script in hand for most of the play. In tense moments, watching him read off the page (even in prayer) took me out of the action, undermining the very adrenaline-propelling fear that horror stories depend on. Having said that, this quibble far from ruins the experience and the story itself—despite invoking the usual Catholic suspects of boy-touching and demons—is engaging right to the final amen.
Find more info about Alone HERE
Given the meme-like title and the fact that two literary giants are involved, I had high hopes for this theatrical interpretation of real events—but the only truly awkward thing about this piece is the intermission between completely unrelated hangouts. We start with two jerks on a plane—Hitler and Mussolini—flying over the USSR in 1941. Their conversation starts as a military history lesson for the audience but quickly folds into a wordy duel of national pride and personal accomplishment (spouted with particularly chafing accents). It really is just banal conversation plus a few jokes to get the facts out—the tension between these two bombastic souls never pulls . . . at least never in a stroppy way.
Cut to 10 minutes later and 10 decades earlier, and the direction of this play completely falls apart. Now we’re in England with Charles Dickens and a jacked-up parody of Hans Christian Andersen who overstays his welcome with Dickens, makes poo jokes, irrationally fan-girls all over Charlie and completely grates on every last nerve you’ve got. What was perhaps intended as slapstick comes off as simply unhinged. After Andersen (John Demmery Green) reads harsh words for his new book, there’s a whole yarn about criticism being irrelevant to the legacy of the work and I couldn’t help but wonder if these guys were getting all meta on me a la Joaquin Phoenix circa 2009—they describe Andersen’s work as “a pointless and dangerous monstrosity that should never be read” . . . a line that easily doubles as a summary review for this play.
Awkward Hangouts is simply a good idea gone wrong—no theme or plot ties the two parts together, the writing feels rushed and not even the great costumes (or Graham Roebuck’s uncanny likeness to Dickens) kept me from checking the clock every five minutes.
Find out more about Awkward Hangouts of History HERE
The dance theatre bar just got raised a bit higher with the beautiful Ballad of Herbie Cox. Created and performed by the Australian husband-and-wife team of Victoria Chiu and Roland Cox, with an assist by director (and past Fringe fave) Jonno Katz, both are gifted, quick-witted dancers who are as expressive with their narration as they are with their movements. Indeed, much of Herbie Cox’s charm comes from the central conceit: they’re acting out quirky stories from each of their own family histories. It’s a multigenerational performance autobiography that evocatively provides the backstory for not only their own relationship but those of their respective parents and grandparents as well. It’s not all happy, but it is all wonderfully done.
While Chiu handles the lion’s share of the dancing, Cox is no slouch in that department either; one of the show’s highlights is a hilarious, high-energy disco number chronicling the courtship of Chiu’s parents, with the genders reversed. But Cox proves himself to be a piano whiz as well, providing a live accompaniment for much of this show—as well as some kick-ass beatboxing while Chiu kicks it out on stage in a twirling, whirling contemporary dynamic frenzy. Both move and act with passion and grace, whether it’s the clever simplicity of a Kleenex puppet or the intense physicality of Chiu dancing up, down, over and under Cox—while he plays a complex piece on the piano, rhythmically punctuated by her own movements. Amazing stuff.
Anyone who saw the Belgian dance theatre piece Josephina at Metro earlier this year will totally dig the infinitely more upbeat Herbie Cox, which is like 2 Pianos 4 Hands as seen through a dance lens. I won’t give away the ending by saying who Herbie Cox is, but it was a great finish to a memorable show. Finally, this is one dance-based Fringe show that will absolutely appeal to fans of both dance and theatre alike . . . without disappointing either.
Find out more info about The Ballad of Herbie Cox HERE
Less the black comedy it’s being billed as and more a goofy situational comedy with a bit of slapstick, Alexa Gilker’s Beautiful Obedient Wife had a packed house laughing out loud throughout its quick-paced 45 minutes. The whole cast had acting chops to spare, but it was hard not to think of it as Three’s Company set in the Ukraine. The humour was rudimentary, for the most part, and the characters (who really liked to yell a lot), although well acted, didn’t seem fully developed. There’s the overbearing mother, her protest-happy and duly hot daughter, the pervy landlord, the love-struck doofus boyfriend, and the nerdy suitor. I kept expecting Larry to show up and invite the whole gang down to the Regal Beagal. Special mention goes to the four-piece band that played traditional Ukrainian tunes in a well-lovely fashion.
Find more info about Beautiful Obedient Wife HERE
The best compliment I can think of to give Corin Raymond’s charming and utterly engaging Bookworm is that it’s like being read to for an hour by a guy who’s totally passionate about the story he’s reading—which is exactly what Bookworm is. An ode to books and the people who love them, Raymond cleverly mixes everyday autobiography with an inherited love of what lies between the covers of his favourite books; and while there is a great surprise waiting in the final minutes of the show, it isn’t the crux of the show—Raymond’s own passion is.
Although he admits to being a musician first, Raymond is an entrancing storyteller and his well-woven tale (dramaturged by local Fringe favourite TJ Dawe) hooks you from the get-go, thanks to a well-placed and cleverly echoed quote from Ray Bradbury, who looms large in this tale. Neither overly theatrical nor cloyingly sentimental, much of Bookworm’s charm comes from its very simplicity; with a natural physicality that was likely only tweaked by director Morgan Jones Phillips, Raymond pulls us in and connects with his audience in a way many performers try, but few succeed. Rarely have I seen so many knowing nods or emotive sounds come from an audience.
Much like the well-worn paperback you pick up for a buck and then give away to friends, Bookworm is the kind of show you want to share with everyone you know. Every local bookstore owner or worker, book club member or solo lover of the printed word—be it fiction, poetry, history or comic books—must see this memorable production. (Alas, however, unlike a book you get to keep, Bookworm can only be appreciated live; such is the ephemeral magic of theatre.)
A true story told with passion and grace, Bookworm is for anyone who loves to read, and re-read, beloved books. Really, don’t miss this one.
Find out more info about Bookworm HERE
If you like meat and musicals, this one-woman show was made for you.
Carolann Valentino (who both wrote and performs all 18 characters in this clever romp) traded in her 10-gallon hat and Dallas Cowboys cheer for a chance at Broadway fame in New York City. Between auditions, she managed a prominent Manhattan steakhouse with all the requisite ups and downs and zany characters you might expect—a familiar setup, maybe, but Valentino’s brassy vocals, boundless energy and knack for character impressions sets this story apart from the starry-eyed-newcomer-in-the-big-city pack. Even better, there are deliciously coy musical numbers riffing on famous showtunes peppered throughout—a retooled ‘Doe A Deer’ from The Sound Of Music (except about meat and how you really should order it pink) was my personal favourite.
The real gem of this show is Valentino herself. A powerhouse entertainer, she bursts into the room with wild gestures and swinging curls and doesn’t let up for the next 75 minutes. Even a glitchy mic on opening night didn’t faze her big vocals or jazzy dance routines.
Lighthearted and genuinely funny, Burnt At The Steak is an impeccable choice if you’re purely looking to be entertained for an evening. Having said that, if you’re not into audience participation keep near the back and away from the aisles . . . or else you’ll be dancing the big-fat-daddy porterhouse or setting tables with the rest of the steakhouse staff.
Find out more info about Burnt at the Steak HERE
After a chance meeting as boys, two men choose friendship over faith in this tale of Irish Protestants and Catholics in the early ’90s. Named for the IRA-friendly Belfast pub that is the primary setting for the relationship between the Catholic Thomas (actor-playwright Matthew Jackson) and the Protestant Jacob (Bryan Sullivan), The Celtic Cross stands as the primary metaphor throughout this tale of mismatched mates in a time of political mayhem.
While there’s nothing necessarily groundbreaking in this new play by Jackson, the story of Christianity and conflict is buoyed by good performances and vivid moments; what this self-directed production seems to be lacking, however, is the outside eye a director and a dramaturge could provide. The Celtic Cross is fine as a character study, and both Jackson and Sullivan are good at expressing rage, but as an overall production it seems to miss its mark. Transitions between scenes lack variety, and it’s hard to judge how much time passes overall. We also never really discover why these two men are friends—a common love of Kilkenny beer and cigarettes? A shared bond of family tragedy? Time, place and religious differences alone are not enough to explain their shared affinity.
Being neither Catholic nor Protestant (or even Christian) myself, it would be interesting to know how this show sits with someone who has a personal connection to the Irish troubles. As it stands, however, more motivation and less circumstances—along with a brisker pace and stronger character development—would help make this a story to truly remember.
Ultimately, the 90-minute runtime is too long for too thin of a story and has trouble holding the audience as the plot unfolds to its tragically inevitable (if dramatically obvious) conclusion.
Half the length here would make for twice the production—but with a bit more work, The Celtic Cross could be a promising two-hander.
Find more info about The Celtic Cross HERE
Half memoir and half history lesson, Charlie: A Hockey Story is mainly about the burgeoning hockey scene of the 1930s. Performer Jim Sands didn’t use to count himself as a hockey fan. As a child he was more interested in Star Trek and Shakespeare; his idol was his English teacher. But with an uncle who played in the early NHL and a father who had an almost religious devotion to the sport, hockey eventually found its way into his life.
There are interesting anecdotes from early hockey here: tales of the first All-Star game, the emergence of violence and the longest game of hockey every played. However, as a non-sports fan, I would have liked some more non-athletic historical context for some of the material, seeing why this sport was important to our growing nation. The personal side of Charlie—Jim Sands’ estrangement from his father—seemed stronger and more significant.
Sands gives a low-key performance, with a few bursts of music and audience involvement. His impersonations of his old, British mentor and a rabble-rousing hockey player aren’t overly strong, but they do add variety over the 70 minutes. There’s certainly room to tighten up this tale, and to derive more suspense and tension from these tense on-ice confrontations. Charlie: A Hockey Story, would suit people who feel a connection to athletics and hockey or who prefer a fireside chat to an in-your-face performance.
Find out more info about Charlie: A Hockey Story HERE
Though there are many jokes about male genitalia, The Cockwhisper is really about the people who come along with various sex organs. From the first boy that caught her eye to her current loving partner, writer-actor Colette Kendall talks about her slowly expanding understanding of sex and love (and cocks). Kendall has a great bawdy style, and she doesn’t hesitate to comment on audience reactions or ask them intimate questions, but it’s all in good fun and part of the act. The Cockwhisperer seems designed to get people talking about sex, to encourage everyone to be as cavalier about the subject as Kendall seems to be.
Puns, corny jokes and vague health-class diagrams provide a lot of humour, but there is also a sad angle in hearing Kendall recall her much more trusting teenage self and dedication to winning herself the wrong man. Kendall herself finds an easy humour even in her most harrowing experiences, and the set feels more like a conversation with a very open, witty acquaintance at a bar.
My only criticism would be that Kendall could take a more egalitarian approach to making fun of our approaches to intercourse and intimacy. There were some cheap shots at men, relying on some tired stereotypes, but I can forgive that as Kendall definitely makes herself the centre of mockery in her own show. If you want to see this show—and you ought to—show up early; people were turned away at Friday night’s show.
Find out more info about The Cock Whisperer HERE
Amidst all the plays, monologues and dance pieces, it’s great to have some stand-up comedy in the local Fringe Festival. Fresh from dazzling audiences at the Edmonton Fringe, local comic mainstays Wes Borg, Morgan Cranny and Mike Delamont each bring a little something different to the mix with their aptly titled Comedy Fun Pack show.
Wes Borg favours music, pairing up profane and potentially offensive lyrics with cutesy guitar strumming or dulcet singing. Borg mocks hippies and slam poets with gusto—a dangerous move in Victoria—and these are his best bits. Cranny brings a more low-key style, detailing his life as a family man with a good amount of wit and effortless delivery. Delamont, who busts out some rehearsed material as well as throwing out some off-the-cuff gems, has a faster-paced approach. Both Cranny and Delmont are masters of self-effacement, always fertile comedic ground.
Rather than divide up the set by thirds, the trio shifts things around to bring in some shorter sets and impressions; this structure strengthens and unites the show. The comedians play off each other and the switches highlight their individual styles while also keeping the whole set feeling fresh. Capping off the evening with some improv together is a neat idea, but they could probably get by with a little less audience solicitation and get straight to their own inventions.
In terms of actual laughter delivery, this show may be the greatest success I’ve seen at the Fringe thus far.
Find out more info about Comedy Fun Pack HERE
It’s hard to say which is the best part of Katrina Kadoski’s Cougar Annie Tales—her heartfelt song cycle about this fabled West Coast matriarch, or simply hearing Kadoski back in town. Once a popular local voice before she became caretaker of Cougar Annie’s land a few years back, it’s a joy to hear Kadoski’s Sarah Harmer-esque song stylings again, and her musical ode to Cougar Annie is a treat to behold.
The show itself—remounted here after an earlier workshop during this year’s Uno Fest—is a mix of spoken narrative and musical numbers, but Kadoski’s strength clearly lies in her singing and songwriting. The dramatic portions, while enjoyable, could do with a bit more work, and the transitions between scenes are still a bit ragged; we get a good overview of Cougar Annie’s life, but you have to overlook some of the less polished sections. (And Friday night’s performance was also hampered by a glitchy mic.)
Illustrated with Ken Burns-style historical images of her life, loves and land, Cougar Annie Tales has great promise and Annie’s own tale deserves to be known by every resident of the Island—but it’s Kadoski’s songs that I walked away humming. If this show was a concept album, I’d buy it immediately.
Find out more info about Cougar Annie Tales HERE
Weirdly beautiful and transfixing, The Damned Girl combines dance and theatre to great effect. Fringe enthusiasts who enjoy dance will be pleased, but those who prefer plays might find this to be a gateway show.
Dance (especially dance on the interpretive side) seems to conjure in many peoples’ mind a difficult, deliberately obscure kind of performance. While I would classify The Damned Girl as interpretive, it’s also about as accessible as you can get; it may not have a clearly-labelled cast of characters, but it certainly has a definitive storyline. Playing with universal themes—jealousy, love and war—The Damned Girl brings emotion, suspense and wonder.
Aesthetically, there is much to admire, and some scenes are incredibly crafted and conceptualized. This a freer, looser style of dance which suits the pure spirit of the show. Yet the performers are certainly skilled, as both dancers and actors, their focus and intensity never cracking. Using movement and facial expressions, they craft a compelling narrative about light, darkness and power.
Helmed by Artistic Director Andrew Barrett and brought to you by Impulse Theatre (also behind The Tirades of Love at the 2011 Fringe), The Damned Girl will give you an enchanting evening, if you’re in the in the right spirit and are willing to play along.
Find out more info about The Damned Girl HERE
He’s a lewd, crude, hard-boiled private dick with a penchant for murder, magic, audience participation, cheap one-liners and talking to himself. You’re the audience that’s there to help him solve the crime and join in the fun. Sound like your kind of show? It better be, because if you don’t like it, then Dirk Darrow is sure to pick on you. Really. I saw his first show—just two seats short of a sell-out—and it featured one of the least cooperative audience members in Fringe history. Yeah, she was a tough nut, but he still managed to crack us up.
It’s Australian Tim Motely’s first time at the Victoria Fringe, and his well-polished Dirk Darrow show is full of cheap jokes and cheesy one-liners—but the bits of magic and overall noir spoof work so well it’s hard not to like his patter. Imagine Penn and Teller as Sam Spade’s bastard offspring, and you’ve got a good idea of what’s in store from this hilarious Not Completely Serious Supernatural Investigator.
Dirk Darrow is sure to be a sell out, so get there early and be prepared to laugh. And no, sitting near the back won’t spare you from embarrassment.
Find out more info about Dirk Darrow: NCSSI HERE
There’s no doubt that Newfoundlander Mikaela Dyke is a talented performer. Assuming seven different characters, all of which have their own thick dialect, is not an easy task. So kudos to her for tackling the unbelievably tough subject matter of Dying Hard, a play that recounts the actual recorded interviews of very ill Maritimes miners and their loved ones. Unfortunately, even Dyke’s impressive talent as a character actor can’t make up for the fact that Dying Hard is a depressing, overly methodical piece of theatre that put me into a coma-like state for most of its 60 minutes.
The most obvious and immediate problem with this production is the way-too-thick dialect of the characters. It’s understandable that Dyke wanted to make these characters as real as possible, and I have no doubt that the marble-mouthed slurring and indistinguishable grunts and chortles are true to form, but it was nearly impossible to understand a word the characters were saying. Out of the seven characters, I could grasp only two of them. The rest was an almost total wash. Why Dyke didn’t do a dialect dial-down is totally beyond me? Because of this, Dying Hard was completely bogged down in despair. Not just the despair that we could feel for the characters, without understanding 90 percent of what they were saying, but the despair of that uncomfortable feeling of being trapped in your seat for an hour, wishing you were somewhere, anywhere, other than there.
For a much more immediate, and truly understandable, artistic look at the plight of Canadian miners, check out Winnipeg songwriter Greg MacPherson’s amazing tune, “Company Store,” and save yourself 55 minutes of despair.
Find more info on Dying Hard HERE
Richard Gauthier, the musician/comedian behind Earth Leader, has lived an unusual life. While mental illness, childhood abuse and addiction in many forms aren’t unusual topics for a show, it is interesting to have them appear all at once and in a non-fiction context. It’s this unique perspective, earned by experience, that makes Earth Leader an intriguing show to see.
The charmingly awkward Gauthier tells us about his life in frank and unsettling terms, yet he also extracts the most macabre kind of comedy from what must have been excruciating moments for him. Part stand-up show and part concert, Earth Leader is a slightly disjointed monologue. But Gauthier’s songs resonate with the audience and his gentle, gravelly voice suits his presence and material. Some of the humour is hit-and-miss, but the shattershot effect works for the show. If anything, Earth Leader would benefit from a fuller, less vague picture of Gauthier’s life, but the details he’s chosen to include are well-selected. Raw, frantic and self-effacing, Earth Leader is a bit of a mixed bag, but a great show if you’re looking for something off the beaten path.
Find out more info about Earth Leader: Son of ‘Bub HERE
The first thing that strikes you about John Grady is how well-dressed he is. Sharply turned out in a natty suit, it’s clear from his very first word, his very first movement, that this is a professional actor telling a well-written, well-rehearsed story—which isn’t a criticism. Far from it; his Fear Factor: Canine Edition is a finely polished tale of the bond between a man and his dog, a story that makes it clearer than I ever thought possible how a leash is more like an umbilical cord . . . and how sometimes man’s best friend is just that, more of a friend that any human could ever be.
While the program says the NYC-based Grady starred off-Broadway in Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell, anyone familiar with the work of the master monologuist won’t need that reminder to see the similarities between the two. Like Gray, Grady knows how to weave a compelling story in such a way that he can keep his audience spellbound—so much so that they’re hesitant to clap even when the lights go down, for fear of breaking the silent link between audience and performer.
If there’s such a thing as a production being too good for the Fringe, this is it; and it should be mandatory viewing for the younger performers at this year’s Fringe. A touching tale hypnotically told, John Grady’s Fear Factor: Canine Edition is a show I won’t soon forget. Anyone who’s ever loved their dog must see this show; anyone who’s ever loved masterful solo performance must see it as well.
Find out more info about Fear Factor: Canine Edition HERE
Back in the Fringe fest after a winning run with Fucking Stephen Harper in 2010, Rob Salerno’s sophomore effort on the Victoria stage has another important story to tell about queer issues in Canada. With a lot of heart, a flip chart and a generous helping of Lady Gaga, Salerno shows us all just how far we haven’t come yet in our relationship to bullying, embracing individual differences and taking responsibility in times of tragedy.
It’s the first day back in class after 14-year-old Ollie, Oshawa’s resident Glee-loving figure skater, killed himself with sleeping pills as a result of being terrorized on the school bus. He was hopeful, effervescent, Tumblr-savvy and gay—this last adjective being a sticking point for his peers. To begin the healing process for Ollie’s classmates, the high school guidance counsellor invites each student to share an Ollie memory or talk more broadly about what led to his suicide in the first place. A handful of students take up this opportunity, offering suggestions through vignettes that range from self-serving to shirking blame to misplaced anger and ultimate regret.
Salerno is on top of his game with this stirring and well-paced production. He transitions smoothly between characters by adding or removing just one article of clothing, translating most of each student’s nuances with sharp body language, speech affectations and perspective. He gets away with the broad stroke high school stereotypes of jock, freak and student council president because these clichés underscore his idea that high school life hasn’t really changed that much, even in an age of video blogging and Pride Parades and legal same-sex marriage.
Using accessible cultural and tech references, First Day Back is timely, topical and situated in the middle of a moment in time (and in a country) that really does have the opportunity to make sure things get better—and this clever, well-executed new play is a thoroughly enjoyable push in the right direction.
Find out more info about First Day Back HERE
Driven by sardonic wit, a few well-placed science theories and wry observations on the matter of connection, Mark Shyzer shines as a motley cast of misfits in this clever, pensive and genuinely funny one-man show.
The quirky personalities aren’t the fresh part of this play but that doesn’t make them any less amusing. We’ve got the resident physics nerd bent on (academic) world domination, an angsty hipster teen that is so-totally-whatever over his parents, a boozy divorcee on a gay cruise and a gravelly old man slowly dying of dementia in a care home. For better or worse, they’re all loners looking (or pretending to not be looking) for connection—and through a series of eccentric monologues, cosmic ideas and twisty plot points we get the sense that an ultimate connector might actually exist out there in the dark somewhere.
Shyzer is a commanding performer. His comic timing is bang on and his transitions between these characters—first with costume changes and then entirely by voice, posture and well-directed physicality—are seamless, made even sharper by a bare bones set and playful lighting design. The sparse props (Frank the goldfish, a science report and a flashlight) are used well to bring Shyzer’s metaphors to life, particularly in the speed-of-light buildup to the show’s finale.
Fishbowl is my favourite kind of solo qork—one that frankly entertains, weaves threads into each other on many levels and ultimately offers its audience a thoughtful new perspective on something we thought we already knew everything about. This play will appeal to the sense of humour and inner geek in everyone—cross my heart and swear to Stephen Hawking.
Find out more info about Fishbowl HERE
The concept is a good one: an audience member picks the blurb from another Victoria Fringe show out of a hat and some of the city’s best improvisers create their own version of said show. Host Kirsten Van Ritzen (Sin City) is the spitfire who leads the charge and Ian Ferguson makes guest appearances and chortles at the side of the stage (really, this part, no matter how non-deliberate, needs to be rethought). On this particular night the cast did their take on Shakespeare’s classic Henry V, modernizing it with a Winnipeg backdrop and intertwining two touching love stories. As far as improv goes, the players were sharp and quick to execute their scenes. A lot of it was impressive and some of it more on the groaner end of the spectrum, the end result was underwhelming. Now, had slut (r)evolution been picked, that would have been something! Maybe next time.
Find more info about Fringe-provise Me! HERE
Story Theatre’s The Great Beanstalk Conspiracy is about a girl named Jackie Jackson and her best friend Michael who are fighting resource-sucking monsters. Jackie and Michael turn into superheroes the Marvelous Moo (Michael) and the Green Grabber (Jackie) to fight these monsters. The monsters are making the air thick with smog that burns your eyes and kill plants. Marvelous Moo and the Green Grabber decide to climb up a beanstalk that comes down every night and sucks up their water supply. But when the Green Grabber reaches the top of the beanstalk, what’s waiting up there isn’t the giant the audience is expecting.
A different take on the usual Jack and the Beanstalk story, the lesson in this show is to be power smart and not waste energy. The sound effects are amazing, and the three actors have great voice projection—I don’t think they were using microphones, but you could hear everything very clearly. The costumes are super, and the way they use pool noodles is hilarious!
This is the fourth Story Theatre show I have seen—including The Magic Soup Stone, Aladdin’s Secret Voyage, Stepping Up—and I liked it as much as any of the others. This show is part of the Fringe FamilyFest, which is a good idea, because it gets its own theatre and kids can see shows they actually like to see. This is an excellent and very funny 50-minute spin-off of Jack and the Beanstalk that’s good for all ages. I’d definitely see it again!
—Gracie Threlfall (age 9)
Find out more about The Great Beanstalk Conspiracy HERE
Local acoustic guitar favourite Colin Godbout is back at this year’s Fringe with his latest musical journey, The Greatest Guitarist in the World. And judging by the totally sold-out house on his first show—which, the venue noted, was the largest audience Wood Hall had yet seen at this year’s Fringe—there’s absolutely a following for his charming guitar concert stylings, which is great for Godbout and his fans. Clearly, if you like acoustic guitar played well, go see Godbout’s show. Just don’t go hoping for any sort of theatrical narrative.
Sure, the show’s concept—comparing and contrasting the music of noted guitar greats Lenny Breau, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Django Reinhardt and Chet Atkins in a showdown of sorts—allows him to progress from artist to artist through the years, but even his literal changing of hats did little to differentiate the sound for me. Sorry, but it all sounds like Colin Godbout—which is great, if you like Colin Godbout. He does fine with Reinhardt, Atkins and Breau, but the Clapton, Hendrix and Page in my record collection all made their names with instantly identifiable electric guitar sounds and distinctive vocals (for Hendrix and Clapton at least), none of which is in evidence here.
It’s not my thing, but hey—the house was packed, and I’m sure he’ll do great for the rest of the Fringe. With the music of six guitarists honouring their collective six-string legacy, Colin Godbout is clearly onto something here.
Find out more info about The Greatest Guitarist in the World HERE
Holy crap, what the hell is this show? It’s a slam-bang 75 minutes of surreal Japanese goth pop, that’s what it is. Imagine Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride by way of Tom Waits’ The Black Rider with a bit of The Rocky Horror Show mixed in, plus a few musical numbers that seem straight out of Quentin Tarantino’s last kabuki acid trip and you’ve got a bit of an idea what lies in wait for you with this wacko treat from Tokyo’s Ryuzanji Company.
With a cast of 12 acting out a mythic tale about a living dead funeral director, his dead clients and servants and the shame his only living daughter is bringing on his house by falling in love with a living boy—a dashing thief named Kitaro of the Graveyard (even though he’s alive)—all based on a traditional Japanese card game (Hanafuda Denki), the most surprising thing about this powerhouse production isn’t that it’s all in Japanese, but that it was originally written back in 1967. The projected surtitles translate the dialogue and songs, but that still doesn’t really help the story make that much sense—but who cares? Just go with it, and let yourself get swept away by the zest and gusto of this cleverly costumed cast.
I have no idea how popular this production is in Japan, but it has everything it needs to be big in Canada. If you’re looking for the obligatory wild and zany Fringe show, you’ve found it.
This house of the dead is very much alive and totally rocking out. I even walked home singing the final song . . . in Japanese, no less. Hanafuda Denki got a big standing ovation on its opening performance, and it absolutely deserved it. Crazy, baby, just crazy.
Find out more info about Hanafuda Denki HERE
Matthew Payne, one of Theatre SKAM’s founding members, went and boxed himself into a corner with Hello, My Name Is Matthew Payne. The premise of the show—which was mostly developed in the 72 hours preceding the tech call for the first performance—is that there are a lot of people who share the same names (in this case, Matthew Payne) and perhaps these people have something interesting to offer the world. It’s a fair assumption to make, given the inherent skills and talents of most human beings, but when the show is left to the devices of old-school cold-calling and more new-school Facebook messaging, it’s no surprise the Matthew Payne behind this production comes up nearly empty. Not even the impressive reveal at the end of the show can save this one from being a snoozer.
Find more info about Hello, My Name Is Matthew Payne HERE
It’s a question for the sages and local stages both: how much Shakespeare does one city need in a summer? Aptly, this Henry V marks the fifth Bardly outing over the past two months and it’s enough to make anyone cry, “Hold, enough!” While I applaud director/producer/actor David Christopher’s moxy in mounting Henry V as a chaser to his recent Henry IV Part I , I have to question whether the Fringe is really the right venue for it. Past Fringes have seen silly Shakespeares, Simpsons Shakespeares and one-man Shakespeares—which seem more in keeping with the spirit of the Fringe—but a 10-person mini-epic, even one that’s been thinned back to 100 minutes?
Alas, there’s not really much to cheer about in this version. There are a couple of strong performances—notably Andrew Axhorn’s Exeter (who I wish had played the title role), and Mur Meadows’ enthusiastic chorus—and Ryan Lewis tries his best as the young king proving himself in battle, but I never really believed him, even during the pivotal St. Crispin’s Day speech (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”).
Unfortunately, swishing cloaks and waving hands do not strong direction make, and even the dramatically flickering lighting couldn’t do much to help the comically bad accents. A minimal production with grand ambitions, perhaps this Henry would have been better had it not taken itself so seriously.
Find out more info about Henry V HERE
Improv is fast becoming one of my favorite things to see, and Hip.Bang.Improv exemplifies why. Performers Devon and Thomas (who are also appearing in Pump.Trolley.Comedy) assemble a show from scratch that rivals more than one scripted piece I’ve seen. Whether they are giants, birds or two little girls, they find a comedic rhythm and chemistry that’s hard to match. It’s almost unfortunate that Hip.Bang is at the Victoria Event Centre, a venue that runs a full-service bar, because you are constantly in danger of spitting out your drink from laughing.
A few skits go on a bit long, but the two actors are quick to read the room and change it up. Beyond the straight comedy happening on the surface, Hip.Bang offers a second layer, that of two cohorts contradicting each other’s cues, mocking their own ideas and struggling to figure out where to go next. It’s that lively, self-aware atmosphere that makes their improv distinctly enjoyable, and when it’s done by two charming, quick-thinking young men, all the better. If I were assigning stars, I would give Hip.Bang a lot of them.
Find out more info about Hip.Bang.Improv HERE
It’s hard to know where to start with Home Free!, a challenging little play that first blurs then sharpens and finally erases the line between imagination and reality altogether in a quick 50 minutes.
The story picks up with Lawrence (Jason Clift), one half of the Brown sibling duo, while he’s giving an astronomy lesson to his fictional children in a playroom packed with toys and child-sized furnishings and a beautiful little ferris wheel. While waiting for his sister Joanna (Maryanne Renzetti) to return from her daily adventure he dithers between his roles as “father” and son—jovially breaking down the cosmos at one turn, then admonishing son Claypole for his stutter a split-second later. When Joanna enters the room and does the same to daughter Edna, it’s clear that the Browns have taken imitation of their own parental relationships and resulting insecurities to a dangerous place.
The next half hour is a fast-paced and darkly absurd conversation between the real and imagined Brown family—Lawrence and Joanna bicker over nap time, future plans and solutions to their problems, handling even these with a play-at-all-costs attitude that takes a tragic turn when the limitations of fantasy become too rigid for Lawrence to beat.
Both Clift and Renzetti fully commit to their parts, making me believe in their childish outbursts and frenzied emotions right to the last mournful chirp of their music box. But that might actually be part of the challenge—they did it so well that I left without entirely knowing if they were children playing adults (complete with a faux pregnant tummy) or adult siblings in arrested development. This haziness certainly extended the fact or fiction paradox to the audience’s experience, but my confusion also made me care less about the characters than I should have, given the context.
Polished is the right word for this entire package: the vintage set design was brilliant—claustrophobic but not too cluttered to prevent the duo from making full use of the stage—and the costumes (ill-fitting dungarees for Lawrence and a 50s-era full-skirted dress for Joanna) played up the age question well. Sentimental riffs on carnival melodies and a well-timed music box wrapped the whole piece up in a relatable nostalgia that made the whole twisty story even darker.
Home Free! is worth the trip to Fairfield but make sure you decompress with some lighter fare afterwards . . . even only just to get yourself back to reality.
Find out more info on Home Free! HERE
I doubt I would have seen Homewrecker Hot Dogs—a “hip-hopera” set in the Southern US—if it wasn’t on my reviewing schedule, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. Instead of wallowing in stereotypes, Homewrecker does its best to invert common perceptions of Southerners, bringing in labour uprisings and business acumen to this tale of two brothers who need to raise a lot of money fast to hold onto their land.
Clyde, an overly-intellectual guy who eschews violence, and his older brother Keller, who worships their late father’s stand-your-ground approach to life, have a tight relationship that becomes strained when they have to decide how to handle the threat to their home by a coal company. The duo sees a lot of action in a short period of time, speeding through story until a dramatic conclusion that feels almost cut short.
Doing a show almost entirely in rap is a clear challenge. The leading men—Cole Peterson and Ben Fitzpatrick—both have pretty good flow and pull off some interesting vocal overlays. While they seem to have no trouble spewing out lines, I have to admit that it can be difficult to follow that rapid-fire dialogue for long periods of time.
There are some goofy stunts and a few stutters, but there are also some clever bits and and an unfailing level of energy on behalf of both actors. The duo behind Homewrecker definitely put in a whole lot of work on this one, and they deserve more of a crowd than they had opening night. You don’t have to be a redneck or a rap fan to appreciate this underdog production.
Find out more info about Homewrecker Hot Dogs HERE
I’m not entirely sure why this show fell so flat for me. It certainly takes an interesting tack; neither a comedy or a drama, it’s an understated bit of theatre about the things we don’t want to admit about ourselves. Maybe I read something more salacious into that concept than I should have, but I found the bulk of the material pretty bland. Themes include misplaced romantic hopes, procrastination, pet loss and religious doubt – nothing earth-shaking.
The monologue features a range of characters, yet they are all relatively indistinct: they sound the same and move the same, despite their vastly different lives. That said, some of the introspection does veer into more fertile territory and there is a bit of freshness at times. Overall, something is severely lacking in this stark, one-woman show that leaves it feeling more like a one-sided conversation than a performance. The sparseness of the stage, the subtlety of the material and the quiet performance require something more in order to work, be it emotion, tension or a sense of stakes.
Find more info on Honesty Hour HERE
I’ve reviewed Tasha Diamant’s The Human Body Project a number of times, and despite it being an unscripted discussion group rather than a standard theatre production, it’s become a very important part of the Victoria Fringe Fest the past few years. Those who have attended Diamant’s session have walked away with mixed results. Some leave before the full 90-minute session ends, feeling awkward about how a naked lady standing at the front of a room creates an atmosphere for more direct, instinctual conversations about issues that can create feelings of discomfort: vulnerability, fear, love, frustration, despair and hope (to name a few). And others feel as though the 90 minutes have passed in a blink. Yet another brave few choose to get vulnerable alongside Diamant by shedding their own outside layers and adding more unclothed humanity to the proceedings. This year was my turn.
Yes, from the first time I’d attended The Human Body Project (I believe this was my sixth or seventh session), I’ve had a knot in my stomach urging me to break through my fears and become vulnerable. For a number of reasons I probably shouldn’t get into while fully clothed and writing Fringe reviews on a Greyhound bus, I’ve never felt comfortable to get naked in public before (as an act of protest, naturism or any other reason), but this time I knew earlier in the day that at the end of the night I would be up there, naked, in front of a Fringe audience. It’s not about any kind of exhibitionism, or some desperate need to be truly seen, it’s simply about taking everything off and admitting that we cannot control anything in life. We can only do our best in every choice we make and commit to bringing happiness and love and peace to ourselves and others. Whether you remain clothed or not, The Human Body Project is especially helpful if you are attempting to overcome some pretty serious shit, and that applies to all of us, innit?
Find more info on The Human Body Project HERE
If dance-based multimedia performance art is a healthy part of your Fringe diet (and really, why shouldn’t it be?), don’t miss this quirky and energetic romp by Ireland’s Sinead Cormack. Literally performing both inside and outside of a skeletal box-like structure, Cormack explores societal expectations by physically creating tension through the construction of a giant cats cradle . . . which she then inhabits.
With her disturbingly perfect spokesmodel smile, it’s clear off the top that things aren’t quite what they appear to be—a fact quickly underscored by the large screen digital projection accompanying her dance and the cascading synth pop that occasionally (and likely intentionally) sounds a bit like a video game soundtrack. How many times have you felt like your life is made up of repetitive tasks that you’re trying to master, only to then move on to the next mundane task?
Cormack’s a strong dancer and rarely slows down throughout this 50-minute piece, which has more than a few funny moments I won’t spoil here. That said, I did find the video projection a bit distracting, never really sure whether I should be watching the live dancer or artificial image—a fact that wasn’t helped by a couple of wee technical glitches, including an annoyingly present menu bar and the appearance of a pop-up software update. (Not part of the show, I’m guessing.)
If purposely repetitive dance routines would have you at the end of your rope, you may want to skip this one—which would be a shame, as Cormack is an entertaining and engaging movement artist who’s not afraid to create, then shatter, the image we think she’s projecting. Call this one a case of whether it’s better to have or have knot.
Find more info about In/Side The Box HERE
Like the hurricane currently blowing into the American southeast, veteran performance poet jem rolls is back at the Fringe with his latest storm of verbiage. “In the beginning, there was the word,” he intones from the darkness at the top of his show, and then proceeds to unleash an hour-long, non-stop spoken word onslaught on the audience that only occasionally slows down. Watching jem rolls is like being a stone on a beach; his voice crashes over you like the tide, and sometimes you just have to sit tight and wait for the lull to catch your (and his) breath.
From ranting about “young people today” to self-effacing whines about suffering through poetry performances (“you’re not meant to enjoy it, it’s art”) and a hilarious one-minute tour of Canada, jem rolls on, pausing only sporadically for blackouts. There’s some great lines here—notably where he describes performance poetry as “the medium and career that does not exist”—all spoken by a true veteran of the Fringe circuit; this is his 11th year of Fringing, which is a lot considering jem was 31 when he started out.
But if there’s a criticism to be had here, it’s that jem seems to have one audio level (loud) and one power setting (overwhelming); a bit more variation and subtlety would make for a more memorable performance. As it is, you come out feeling all a bit dazed by it all—much like emerging from a loud concert where you’re sure you enjoyed it, but can’t necessarily recall any specific songs.
Find out more info about jem rolls: Ten Starts and an End HERE
One of the big surprises for me at last year’s Fringe was the inclusion of a magic show, so colour me delighted to discover another one in this year’s lineup. But while Vancouver’s Travis Bernhardt wasn’t at the 2011 Fringe, his charming and utterly engaging performance in Lies! makes me wish he was.
A dapper and delightful magician as quick with a droll line as he is with his sleight of hand, Bernhardt’s 60-minute act will have you cheering from the very first disappearing coin. Going more for style than volume, this talented young prestidigitator wraps his act around the idea that all magicians are technically liars, and we the audience are complicit in those lies. This patter then forms the basis for his tricks, which run the gamut from card tricks and mind reading to an updated version of the classic ring trick. There’s more, of course, but this is the kind of show where you definitely don’t want to give anything away—especially the amazing final trick involving the entire audience, which still has me baffled.
Absolutely an all-ages show, this is one anyone will enjoy. I dare you to try and figure out how he’s doing this all, but the beauty of Bernhardt’s performance is that you don’t really want to—you’re just too busy having fun and being amazed. Even though I already know what to expect, I just might go see this one twice. It really is just like magic!
Find more info about Lies! HERE
The lady behind Little Lady (Sandrine Lafond) has been a dancer and a Cirque Du Soleil performer—experiences which are evident in this show. Lafond displays grace and impeccable theatrical sensibility as our garish, comical protagonist. The action follows our little lady as she goes about her life: she eats, watches television and even sleeps in bizarre ways. Yet, this creature—part beauty queen, part gremlin—is also changing right before our eyes, and a bit of a reverse metamorphosis takes place.
Without Lafond, this show probably couldn’t be staged. She conveys a journey through her impossibly expressive face, mind-boggling movements and wild vocal sounds. It’s the kind of performance that requires unfailing energy and concentration, yet also needs a playful, fluid spirit. Though there’s no dialogue, the show fills the silence with music and recorded sounds, as well as sets the stage with a short film. It’s an effective use of multimedia (which can overwhelm some productions) and an interesting, appealing way to set the stage.
Little Lady describes itself as an examination of our obsession with image and appearance, but it’s not really a “message” type of show. A sprightly piece of physical theatre, Little Lady provides plenty of spectacle and a little something to think about.
Find out more info about Little Lady HERE
What unused compliments are left to shower Little Orange Man with? After premiering this standout play on Victoria’s Fringe stage last year, Ingrid Hansen packed her gawky smock and lamps and hippopotamus puppet all over Canada to rave reviews. She’s brought Kitt, ever the lovably morbid storyteller, back to the city for another round—and this play is just as beautifully-wrought and pretty to look at in its second helping.
Thinking, sharing and moving at a mile-a-minute, Kitt immediately strikes you as one of those wise-beyond-their-years kids who will grow up to be a thoroughly eccentric brand of genius. In this instance, she’s gathered together a group of dreamers to figure out the message behind a strange recurring dream she’s been having that’s steeped in Danish folklore. The resulting (hilarious) adventure fills out the picture of Kitt’s perspective and eventually rounds out to a soulful and immaculately-directed final scene.
Hansen is an incredibly charismatic and multi-faceted performer—the kind of spirited and pliable actor that alt-pop directors like Wes Anderson only dream of. With relatable vulnerability and expert timing she breathes life into everything she touches on stage, and it’s this sense of playfulness—with puppets and head lamps and even celery—that captures your imagination from the very first fable.
If you saw Little Orange Man last year, you probably already have your tickets—if you didn’t, don’t miss out on your second chance. This play—in all its rambunctious and haunting beauty—really is a dream come true.
Find out more info about Little Orange Man HERE
Eleanor and Dorian are two cocky and cerebral superbeasts that know you want to know why they did what they did—and they’ll take the next 60 minutes to tell you through a super tale of perversion, identity, adventure and their view on our social fascination with the macabre. What makes this version of a well-tread premise fresh is the fiery chemistry between locals Mily Mumford (who also wrote the piece) and Joseph Goble. Self-described as two fucked-up little snowflakes, this poison-happy Bonny and Clyde trade quips, barbs and affections as fast as they kill the old, the useless and the rude (yes, they really kill people for sport).
One of the things that’s struck me most over the years about Mumford as a performer is her storytelling through movement—and she brings that skill centre-stage here. Well-directed by Peter Such, Mumford is coquettish in just the right moments, wild in the throes of death and subtle in her mix of power and grace for a twisted fantasy tango with Goble. In the end, these self-indulgent psychopaths are really just like us—trying to figure out who to trust and how to experience as much from life as possible, except with a lot more blood.
Superbeasts is easily Mumford’s best Fringe showing yet—a clever little dramedy blending the best of vaudeville, black humour and awww-moment cheese into a well-lit, well-choreographed little show.
Find out more about Love is for Superbeasts HERE
Often, local shows seem to get overlooked at the Fringe, given the influx of international talent. Meghan Bell’s My Aim is True definitely demonstrates that homegrown talent can hold its own. Allison, age 18, pushes her ailing mother to get chemotherapy in this slightly off-beat dramatic comedy. Serious and health-conscious, she is a far cry from her smoking and scotch-loving mother and her carefree, upbeat boyfriend Jack.
As a protagonist, Allison falls a little flat, but the interplay between the characters takes some unexpected directions. The show mixes up its static setting with fantasies, monologues and solo songs, which keeps things from feeling stagnant. Jack, gawky and warm-hearted, steals the show with his coffee-house performances and the entire cast carries an earthy, unpolished tone to their voices, which keeps the show feeling realistic.
Capably performed and heartfelt, My Aim is True is a solid show for anyone looking for sadness with a side of off-the-wall humour.
Find out more about My Aim Is True HERE
I know this is a children’s production, but if you are going to put an exclamation mark in your show title then you damn well better be able to back it up with some spills and chills—or at least some slightly better action scenes. I’m partly teasing, as this Decades Theatre production of The Night that the Knight Learned Wrong from Right! (exclamation!) is a well-done live action/puppet combo that had its half-house of kids and moms (the only known dad was sans kids . . . yeah, me) fully captivated for the first five minutes . . . and then partially to barely captivated for the remaining 40. The puppetry was strong, the live acting impressive (an array of animal characters were spot on) but the story was, well, kind of pieced together. Best to describe this one as, shall we say, “in progress!”
Find out more about The Night the Knight Learned Wrong from Right! HERE
Sketch comedy tends to be an interesting gambit, as crowds vary in their response to certain skits or lines. PumpTrolley certainly earns some laughs along the way, mainly due to a capable cast, including the duo behind Hip.Bang.Improv. The material runs the gamut between profane and inane, often tending towards the ridiculous. There were definitely some great moments in the set – the end bit in particular was truly surprising - but there was also room for improvement.
Sometimes a great premise can’t fuel a full skit, and this is an issue that runs throughout this show. Sketches run on too long and get repetitive, and often there is more build-up than actual punchlines. More variety and an overall tighter set could make this show much stronger, but it found an appreciative audience on its opening night. A fairly solid comedy bet, but not a must-see show.
Find more info on Pump Trolley Comedy HERE
Nicholas is just your average kid—he sings Gilbert and Sullivan, loves Rita Hayworth and has a classy alter-ego named Rufus. Unfortunately, he’s also been born a redhead and this has made it hard to fit in at school. Coping with his parents divorce, bullies and the death of his grandma, Nicholas shows resilience and even a little bit of attitude. So why does everyone at school hate him?
As Nicholas, Johnnie Walker brings a sweetness and a bit of spunk to the adolescent experience. Despite Rufus’ charms, Walker is surprisingly stronger as the brash, golf-loving stepmother Nicholas has recently acquired.
Quirky, campy and somewhat silly, Redheaded Stepchild won’t have you rolling in your seat with laughter, but it will make you smile and draw you into its familiar narrative. What rescues the show from heading down cliche avenue (stepmoms, bullying, being a “different” child) is its unusual structure and its thoughtful details. It’s interesting to see an alter-ego’s perspective on his creator, and the viewpoint of the stepmother contrasts well with Nicholas. It’s also fun to see a solo show with a bit more color, including costume changes and more than a few props.
Partway through, the show shifts direction a bit and this switch-up pushes it from amusing to memorable. Well-crafted and genuine, Redheaded Stepchild will inspire you to face down the bully within.
Find out more info about Redheaded Stepchild HERE
Walter Manny is a kid with an overactive imagination. None of the other kids at his school like him, they all just think he’s weird. Even his gran and his teacher don’t get him. He spends his days daydreaming because that’s the only thing he really feels comfortable doing—but he gets in a lot of trouble for doing it, because he’s not just sitting there. No matter where he is or what he’s doing, he just ends up daydreaming that he’s an airplane pilot, a race car driver, a fireman, a cowboy, being trapped by aliens, a baseball player, a sword fighter, a secret agent and a dancer. But when a fire breaks out while he’s daydreaming, we all learn how a good imagination can end up saving the day.
The actor, Trent Arterberry, has a great imagination and does lots of great sound effects while he acts out all these roles in this 45-minute show. He is so good at changing voices, too. I really liked it when he was a secret agent. It was really cool when he was using pretend suction cups to climb a wall, because it really looked like there was a wall there. All of the props in this show are imaginary, but you’d have to be a little older than five to be able to understand everything that happens in this story. My seven-year-old brother loved this show, but his four-year-old friend had a bit of trouble following it.
The Secret Life of Walter Manny is part of the Fringe’s FamilyFest at Langham Court Theatre. I really liked going to Langham Court, as it has a pretty big stage. Most kids’ shows come to our schools, so it seemed pretty special to see a kids show in an actual theatre.
In the end, Walter Manny does a great job saving the day! This is a hilarious show. If you like using your imagination, don’t miss The Secret Life of Walter Manny!
—Gracie Threlfall (age 9)
Find out more about The Secret Life of Walter Manny HERE
You’ll likely be hearing the name James Gangl very soon, at the very least in the form of excited murmurs in Fringe lineups. But, if the Toronto actor/comedian shows up on some new hit comedy series on HBO, don’t be too surprised or anything. Gangl’s one-man show, Sex, Religion and Other Hang-ups, is a 75-minute romp of epic proportions, by far the funniest thing I’ve seen during my Fringe days.
Directed by local Fringe and Uno Fest favourite Chris Gibbs (The Power of Ignorance, Like Father, Like Son?), this high-energy show is fueled by Gangl’s complete disregard for his ego. With the backdrop of finding someone to love within the packed-to-the-gills Saturday night audience at Victoria Fringe (he has particular interest in a pretty lass in the front row), Gangl begins recounting the tale of “the one that got away.” We find out that Gangl is an aspiring actor whose big break to date is a bit part in a Coors Light commercial. We discover that he battles daily between his sexuality and his Catholicism. And we find out, through a few awkward situational moments, that he stayed a virgin for a lot longer than most of us do. The tale of him finally getting laid at the ripe age of 26 entails some of the funniest moments of the play, but there is lots here to laugh at.
But Sex, Religion and Other Hang-ups isn’t just a goofy romp, due to Gangl’s endearing observations on life, not to mention his penchant for slam poetry, which rears its noble head near the show’s climax. What really makes this show so extraordinary though is the way that Gangl interacts with the crowd. Not only does he make us feel as though he’s actually talking to us (and he is, and don’t you just hate those disconnected theatre pieces where it feels like the performer is projecting right over the top of our heads?), he takes the time to cleverly connect us on an ongoing basis, also as way to take a measured breath between his rapid-fire delivery (at one point he said “excuse you” to a guy who sneezed as a way to settle himself and his tendency to over-pace down a little bit: brilliant).
Sex, Religion and Other Hang-ups is fast-paced and enthralling. The subject matter is fresh and fun and clever and quite genius. James Gangl: Slaying Victoria Fringe since 2012. And, don’t worry, it’s just breakaway glass.
Find more info on Sex, Religion and Other Hang-ups HERE.
Number 18 is a sex slave in Bangkok, Thailand. Jason is a Canadian on a mission to build a case against her pimp, while coping with being away from his wife Ally and the spirit-dampening effect of an endless stream of brothels. This play is strongest at its simplest: the few appearances of a chorus of moaning women voicing internal struggles provides some exposition, but mostly makes a real story seem like a piece of melodrama.
She Has a Name manages to cover a wide scope in 90 minutes, but occasionally slips into unrealistic dialogue for the sake of getting things to the surface. Loaded with intense performances and well-drawn characters, the show captures the divide between two very different worlds. Given its subject matter, it’s hardly surprising that She Has a Name is now in the running for darkest show. It’s a harrowing piece of theatre, but one that needs to be seen.
Find out more about She Has A Name HERE
If you like your comedy light and airy with a dash of oregano, give Significant Me—the sequel to 2010’s super hit ONEymoon—some love in your Fringe schedule.
In this instalment, we meet up again with famed self-marrier Caroline Bierman (Christel Bartelse) on the third anniversary of her wedding day. She’s prepping a lavish feast for her, herself, her family and her best friend to celebrate—and the next 60 minutes are spent unravelling the realities of what being stuck with only yourself until death pulls you apart really means. Through broad comedy and some sweet dance moves we unpack all of Caroline’s great expectations, skewer “celebrity” culture and end up almost burning the chocolate—all before the first course hits the tablecloth.
Bartelse’s knack for physical performance hits sharply without veering too far into caricature; she rolls through a cast of unsupportive friends and family well with a seamless flick in her mannerisms and she even convincingly argues with two very different sides of herself as wedded bliss begins to show its cracks. Not every joke landed, partly because a handful of them are a bit pedestrian but also partly because she was playing to a smallish Wednesday-night-at-10pm crowd.
Cut completely from cardboard, Bartelse’s cartoonish props (designed by Taylor Nelles) gave the show a surrealist mid-century pop that nicely complemented the staid housewife undertones (even if one errant vase refused to stand upright). I would have been interested to see Bartelse skew her writing further towards the inherent narcissism at play in this subversive premise, exploring all the dark and cynical places that the self-revelation that comes with marrying yourself could go. Having said that, Significant Me as it stands is an enjoyable and cheeky romp into the complicated realm of relationships—a ringing testament to the gifts of Bartelse as a committed and engaging performer.
Find out more info about Significant Me HERE
Cameryn Moore has become somewhat of an icon around Victoria Fringe. If you see a bubbly, attractive, bespectacled, plus-sized woman working her magic outside a Fringe venue this year, that’s probably Moore. The former phone sex operator was here last year with her somewhat overrated Phone Whore show, but I’m happy to announce that slut (r)evolution is, by far, a stronger production.
Detailing her fascination with her own sexuality, Moore runs through a few of her more memorable sexual experiences over the years and her emergence as a self-identified slut. Moore has transformed her work from being lopsidedly shock-value (my big complaint with Phone Whore) to something that has an abundance of universal truth threads running through it. We all like to feel good. We all feel held back by society’s conventions and constraints. We all like to feel sexy and wanted and loved and adored. We all like to masturbate. And although Moore has a tendency to overact, especially in her facial expressions (or maybe it’s just nervous ticks, in which case, cool), the material she chooses to share with her audience in such an intimate way is among the premier that Fringe has to offer. And, best of all, the “guffaws” and “ohmigods” in Phone Whore have been replaced by some tender, thoughtful moments that make Moore all the more endearing to her audiences. Brav-O on this one.
Find more info on slut (r)evolution (no one gets there overnight) HERE
Over on the dance-y side of the Fringe, Spark offers a primal energy and intricate physicality. Modelled after several stages of creation—from single cells to sentient life—the show has fluidity and progression as each stage carries its own signature. Rather than resting on physical stunts, Spark runs on musicality, grace and visual sensibility. At times, the six dancers create incredibly complex scenes while at other moments a single dancer owns the stage.
The choreography here is made for music; the visuals and sound are so intertwined that it’s like the dancers’ bodies are plucking the strings. The precision and synchronization here is impeccable; the dancers make small and subtle movements by the second, in perfect time. Though the show is astounding to see, what’s truly amazing about Spark is the emotive quality conveyed through the choreography itself and the expressive faces of its performers. Its momentum, tension and sheer nerve will have you transfixed. This one is ever-evolving and simply breathtaking.
Find out more info about Spark HERE
I almost feel it’s unfair to review this show, since the performers had to innovate on the fly after the lights went out for 10 minutes—but they did such a stellar job coping with technical difficulties (thank goodness the show already included a flashlight!) that I’m going to go ahead.
The Temple of Khaos is a madcap bit of theatre. Set 10,000 years into the future, the performers present it as though they are giving a educational history performance about the glorious decade that was the 1980s. Not surprisingly, our future anthropologists do not get a lot of the details right. The plotline is more ancient myth than Andrew McCarthy movie, and it’s hilarious to see the two connected, like creation myth being compared to real estate development.
There is also a bit of a play-behind-the-play, as the actors correct each other and work out their own interpersonal issues in the midst of trying to present this very serious story for their imagined audience. The cast of characters is well conceived, with Daniel Nimmo playing a bossy narcissist, Kristian Remier as a dumb yet dedicated method actor, Amy J. Lester and an eager airhead and Nicole Ratjen as a somewhat insane leading lady.
Their posters reference Monty Python, and the comparison isn’t unfounded. They do share a bumbling style and both slip in gems of comedy that might take a few viewings to pick up on. The Temple of Khaos also has lots of physical humour, slapstick sensibilities and a willingness to improvise.
Farcical and fun, The Temple of Khaos proves to be a strong comedy capable of overcoming anything, including actual chaos.
Find out more info about The Temple of Khaos HERE
The Tenant Haimovitz is exactly why I love fringe theatre. It’s a visual feast, for one, but as part of an offbeat festival it’s also given the space to transport an audience to a completely alternate way of thinking—in this case, the unpacking and muddling through of social expectations and of what staying ‘true to self’ actually means.
The setup of this entirely wonderful absurdist play is simple: by way of a quick nap in his new apartment, we join aspiring writer Daniel Haimovitz on a tongue-in-cheek odyssey that begins in his room and ends up on another plane completely with a whole cast of ethereal tagalongs. These flatmates poke and prod Haimovitz’s insecurities, tease him, steal his precious notebook and double as therapists, love interests, parents and playmates. The voices in Daniel’s head seem to have taken human form and he struggles to endure a world driven by interests and obligations that don’t fit his soul and will eventually crush him. I may even be oversimplifying matters—this piece, with its Cirque-ish characters, imaginative movement and quagmire of Kafka references is deliciously layered. There’s a lot to absorb all at once and I could easily go three more times and still be pulling new things out at every turn.
The production value at work here is unreal—particularly for a piece on the Fringe circuit all the way from Israel. The set design—shredded paper everywhere and a few key platforms and crates—shuttles you into a state of play almost immediately and this well-directed eight-person cast uses almost every inch of it to weave their tale. In one particularly fantastic scene, they each latch onto a thick ribbon and use it like a cat’s cradle string to bind, shove and play with Daniel through a series of conversations. Zygota is obviously a company of consummate performers, committed to the work of this piece (and I mean work—the physical demands alone are huge).
Am I raving? I’m raving. I know. And I haven’t even gotten to the wildly creative costumes or the well-placed instruments. All of this is not to say that the play is perfect—it has some challenges with opaque references and maybe too many oddities—but it does what theatre should. It’s stuck with me throughout the entire next day; I keep rehashing and looking at scenes from other angles (like maybe these weirdos are all just helping Daniel past a bout of writer’s block?). It’s self-indulgent in places because it can afford to be—and it leaves you breathless with its sheer imagination. Go if you’re curious, if you want to be entertained or blown away by something rare—it’s Fringe at its best and Victoria is only too lucky to have this show in town right now.
Find more info about The Tenant Haimovitz HERE
As far as folk tales go, this musical is delightfully gothic: it deals in death, questionable motivations and pseudo-zombie corpse brides. Basically, it’s the stuff that Tim Burton’s dreams are made of, so add this to your list if you’re a Burton loyalist or a fan of splintered fairy tales and ghoulish satire more generally.
Set in Warsaw some years ago, this play (based on a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer) follows the resurrection and resulting chaos of Itche and Finkle, two forsaken corpses who are given a second chance to get it right by an overbearing demon. Itche—poor, pious and formerly resting in an unmarked grave—is set on a path to fame and fortune while Finkle, who shrivelled up in death after wishing her life away, is promised companionship and an opportunity to regain what she’s lost. Oh, and neither of them get that they’re actually already dead—making for a bit of a George Bailey-in-Potterville riff when Itche, for one, tries to reconnect with his old life.
This piece is visually interesting thanks to great makeup, well-designed lighting and scene changes marked by the slight re-ordering of crates and other simple props. The heightened language from Saskatoon-based playwrights Andrew Taylor and Donovan Scheirer is sophisticated without falling into undue profundity, working well to create a fable-like tone in line with the overt storytelling-by-narration structure. The plot can get a bit repetitive and the motivations of the corpses weren’t always clear, but that didn’t impede the key takeaway message here: life is short and the chance to change your stars is tempting but messing with fate doesn’t actually make for happiness most of the time. A little editing to get there faster (the show ran 10 minutes over on opening night) would benefit an otherwise charming tale.
On-stage instruments and a live chorus really make a musical for me and Corpses delivers on both fronts—the singing chops of all six cast members were impressive and the live gypsy music put an accordion and a ukulele to good use. Overall, this dark little play is worth giving a whirl across the dance floor—even if the number lasts a bit longer than it needs to.
Find more info about Two Corpses Go Dancing HERE
Well, it looks like I’m not having much luck with the 2-for-1 play concept this year. Two Sides of the Coin—billed as “two plays, two different kinds of relationships, two different results”—is rife with problems no matter which side you land on.
The first half is called Symptomatic and looks at the lifelong relationship between a smoker and her drug of choice, even after a close friend dies of emphysema at 59. The Argument, a vignette that takes up the last 20 minutes of the hour, plays with another relationship entirely—one between a middle-aged man and woman who aren’t communicating well. I was actually most thrown off by the misogynistic undertones in both playlets—the female lead was given whiny lines that perpetuated stereotypes of jealousy and irrationality, female friends were painted broadly as annoying bitches, potential dates were labelled dumb bimbos and the second act seemed to suggest that it’s better to be with any man than wind up alone, unmarried and with lots of cats.
There is much to say here about the gaffes in writing and production—trite dialogue, bumbling direction, no hook, non-existent lighting design—but I think carrying on like that is pointless in a case where Sombrio Developmental Theatre is probably just in over its head. Unfortunately for them, this piece has been slotted into St. Ann’s Academy—an intimidating space made even more massive by the three person audience in the house that I attended.
This company (headed up by local writer Malcolm J. Watt) might really benefit from workshopping their next effort through a program like Intrepid Theatre’s You Show series—the birthplace of scads of great local shows like Andrew Bailey’s The Adversary, Cougar Annie in this year’s Fringe lineup and Missie Peters’ Where’s My Flying Car. As it stands now, Two Sides of the Coin has erred much too far on the unpolished side to be worth its ticket price this Fringe.
Find out more info about Two Sides of the Coin HERE
While the Fringe often seems to be a young performer’s game—witness the number of fresh-out-of-university talents in this year’s model—there are a few actors who stick it out, often surprising audiences with their tenacity and longevity. Veteran California singer-songwriter/actor Randy Rutherford is one of those and, like an occasional visit from an old friend, I always welcome his appearances on our local stages.
He’s back this year with his trusty guitar and new one-man show further exploring the impact of his massive hearing loss (now 70 percent gone), along with his vegan girlfriend, imaginary translator and his latest slice-of-life story. Grappling with the limitations of a vegan diet and the perils of relationship miscommunications—magnified by his deafness and complicated by the increasingly jealous voice in his head—Rutherford’s trip to a hot springs with his vivacious girlfriend isn’t quite as relaxing as intended . . . especially once they hit the clothing-optional pool.
True, The Water is Wide doesn’t compare to his earlier gems like Weaverville Waltz and My Brother Sang Like Roy Orbison—the story isn’t as nuanced, the characters too few and not as crisply performed—but there’s no denying Rutherford’s undeniable charm, descriptive language (his particularly fat cat is described as “a black barn with feet”), lilting singing voice and ability as a storyteller. For me, a fresh Randy Rutherford show is like a new album by Jackson Browne—they can’t all be instant classics, but they’re always comforting and enjoyable. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear that one of your favourite artists is still making new music, you know?
Find out more info about The Water is Wide HERE
One of three Japanese-language productions at this year’s Fringe, Wind in the Pines is a simple concept: explain the origin and contemporary update of a Japanese folk tale, then perform the traditional version followed by the update to contemporary times. Yep, it’s the same story twice, with not much of a twist between the two.
A literally haunting tale of two ghostly sisters eternally waiting for the return of their lover, this effort by Tokyo’s Sokai Salon is the polar opposite of Hanafuda Denki: slow and steady, this contemporary Noh play moves at a shadow’s pace. But honestly, there’s not much to say about it. The acting is as small and simple as the production itself, and the story is pretty straightforward. It’s always nice to see some international action on local Fringe stages, but this one just didn’t grab me; perhaps something literally got lost in translation.
On the plus side, the program lists it as 75 minutes, but we were out the door in just over 45.
Find out more info about Wind in the Pines HERE
Julian Cervello, the local master of Middle Ages mirth and merriment, is back with another 600-year-old comedy after his success with last year’s Canterbury Cocktails. This time around, he’s donned a frock to bring us The Wyf of Bathe, Geoffrey Chaucer’s classically lewd and still frequently funny social satire. Performed once again entirely in Middle English, Cervello’s lively staging and clever performance make this an entertaining outing, whether or not you actually understand anything he’s saying.
Definitely ruder than Cocktails, Bathe offers some hilariously bawdy sight gags as the far-from-shy Wyf recounts the, uh, ups and downs of her various marriages before transitioning into an Arthurian fable done with puppets. While I honestly enjoyed Cocktails more, it’s hard to say if that’s because it was a more engaging story or was just an original idea last year. Either way, The Wyf of Bathe stands as a charming slice of lively literature brought to life. Call this one Desperate Housewyfes circa the 14th century.
Find out more info about The Wyf of Bathe HERE
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Barbara Selfridge, performer and writer, shares her life story through Zero Tolerance. She talks about having a sister with epilepsy, a philandering mathematician for a father and a doting mother. At times, Selfridge verges on tears, such as when talking about her sister’s seizures. It’s almost strange to see unfiltered emotion on stage, and ultimately, Zero Tolerance isn’t ready to enter the spotlight.
There is a good show in the basic story hidden within Zero Tolerance, but it seldom comes to the surface. Selfridge doesn’t come off as an actor, and it seems as though her personal connection to the story impedes her ability to filter out what is crucial to an audience and what is significant to her. Extraneous detail not withstanding, Zero also suffers from a circular narrative and a lack of dramatic tension. Solo performers often struggle to move through time in order to create suspense and reshape their story into something compelling. Selfridge shakes up her narrative with flashes forward and back, yet the memories she shares rarely connect to the instance she injects them into. As she constantly has to re-establish the time and place, Selfridge over explains and repeats herself, not trusting her audience to recall what was happening on stage a few moments ago.
The best parts of Zero Tolerance are when Selfridge impersonates her sister; her portrayal feels at once studied and natural. As her own character, Selfridge seems lost. Her entire life is framed by her relationship with her father, her mother and her sister and nothing about her own life—job, lovers, friends—comes to light. In the end, the heart and message behind Zero Tolerance are lost in a disjointed, rambling performance. This feels like a work-in-progress that needs a tighter directorial hand, a script rewrite and possibly a new star, as Selfridge seems too tied to her own viewpoint to connect with her audience and convey the wisdom she is striving to share.
Find out more info about Zero Tolerance HERE
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