London Fringe 14: Opening weekend reviews

Fringe Outbreak

As has become tradition, a team of volunteers is reviewing all of the shows in the London Fringe Festival on behalf of Theatre in London over the opening weekend. Each review is initially posted to the Fringe website, and they’ll all be archived here after the festival ends. Keep an eye on @theatreinlondon on Twitter for links to each review, and watch for a 2013 edition of The Banner on Thursday.

2 for Tea

Not my bag

Tea, British humour and physical comedy: all the makings (in my opinion) for a brilliant show. Unfortunately, 2 for Tea fell short of that brilliance for me. It started weak and didn’t progress much beyond juvenile humour and utter silliness.

One part scripted, one part improv with added audience participation, 2 for Tea lives up to its “bizarre” description. A certain innocence makes the characters endearing, however I didn’t relate to them in the least and found myself clock watching after the first half hour. The laughter around me would suggest some found humour in the show but sadly, I didn’t get it.

2 for Tea was just not my bag.

—Jo-Anne Bishop

Perhaps not everyone’s cup

James and Jamesy are two very charming, very talented physical actors. The two performers work well together in this partly scripted, part improvised show.

Among other entertaining bits, the show contains a particularly clever use of Leroy Anderson’s musical piece, The Typewriter (although one wonders if every audience member was old enough to recognize the main “instrument”).

This is a show that has captured many. Sadly, while I wanted to love 2 For Tea—the two men are entirely delightful in person as well as on stage—I found this at best a lukewarm cuppa.

—Laurie Bursch

Anatolia Speaks

Anatolia cannot be missed

This one-woman performance is set up like a student presentation in an ESL school, where Anatolia is sharing her experience as a new Canadian. The show is exceptionally performed by Candice Fiorentino, who has you chuckling at her endearing perspective on Canadian life and her job at the Superstore.

As she moves through her presentation she talks of her life in war-torn Bosnia, where we learn of Anatolia’s devastating past. It’s in these moments where Fiorentino’s performance was heartbreaking and moving, which left most of the audience in tears. This play reminds us of the diverse stories that make up the fabric of our country, and just how lucky we are to be Canadian. Anatolia Speaks is a definite must-see this year at Fringe.

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

Be A Man

Be amazed!

Presented as a series of vignettes, this show explores the idea of what it means to be a man. These four men all bring something different to the table, their own unique presence (including partial nudity), as they move through each portrayal of a different type of man. It seems like the cast has been working together forever based on their chemistry and their impeccable timing.

The writing is brilliant and the acting is bold. This brave show is hilarious, touching, thought-provoking, and totally entertaining.

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

A Beautiful View

Perfect performances

Coming from a group of local theatre mainstays and written by a celebrated Canadian playwright, this one’s an obvious must-see. MacIvor’s script is clever in his typical way, albeit pretty predictable with what is perhaps an unintentionally goofy finale, but where this production really shone was in the performances. Valerie Cotic was understated and perfectly believable, bringing a fantastic depth to her character, while Meghan Brown was hilarious and charismatic while still presenting her character as well-rounded and so very real. Their timing together was impeccable and their relationship onstage convincing in every way. They presented their first show, a Saturday matinee, to a sold-out house, so get tickets as early as you can.

—Clara Madrenas

Bedtime Stories

The stories behind the stories

Bedtime Stories looks before “Once upon a time…” and beyond “…happily ever after” to let the characters tell their stories in their own words: Cinderella, who traded in her evil step-family for a different kind of servitude; Rapunzel’s Witch, whose good intentions amounted to villainy; Rumplestiltskin’s Queen, who went to great lengths to keep her secrets; and Bluebeard’s Wife, who betrayed her husband’s trust.

The women tell their stories separately and together, sharing the threads that connect them. Each story warns of the price you pay for freedom, for love, for power, for knowledge.

The play is beautifully written, and the imagery the words conjure up is alternately stunning and shocking—it’s a far darker show than its name suggests. All four women throw themselves into their characters wholeheartedly, and each is a pleasure to watch.

This is a show for anyone who understands the power that stories hold, and who wants to re-examine the fables of their childhood.

—Erika Faust

Circle

Exploration, sex, laughter—an absolute must-see!

This show gives you exactly what you expect: sex, sex, and more sex! Christel Bartelse and Bob Brader act out a series of different characters in various sexual encounters, each more unique than the last. The pair transition easily into their different characters, with well-planned costume changes and sheer talent.

While definitely not a show for a younger crowd, this show is absolutely hilarious and incredibly honest, showing the wide range of sexual encounters that all types of people experience. They had the sold-out theatre in the palms of their hands and nearly rolling on the floor with laughter. Do not miss this show!

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

Cover Song

The heart of Cover Song is an exploration of why and how pop tunes get covered. This nugget of an idea is a novel and fertile platform on which to base a “jukebox musical”.  The show has some great stuff going for it, most notably the fabulous sets of pipes that several of the cast members have. The classic hits are loaded with tap-ability, clap-ability and hum-ability that could infect audience members with earworms for days to come.

In a “jukebox musical”, the plot is an excuse to string great tunes together, light the fuse and then get out of the way. It may be a concocted story like Mamma Mia but at least as often it’s simply a chronology of the subject’s life and career, as in Jersey Boys or Elvis!.  In contrast, the predominant plot device of Cover Song—radio DJs’ banter—unfortunately weakens the show’s energy flow, halting for too long between sometimes overly shortened songs. As in the real world, radio drive-time conversational kapok gets tuned out as listeners drift away, waiting for the important stuff—the tunes—to come back on. Pulling the narrations back to energetic and focused DJ monologues or dialogs would match the spirit and vigor of the subject matter—wildly successful pop songs—and would keep everything rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ all the way through to the end.

Overall, Cover Song feels constrained, as if it has been cranked back to 8.5. It has the air of having been rehearsed in a space that was too small for its energy and ideas and in which the sound level had to be kept down. It doesn’t need to go all the way to 11, but it would be gratifying to see it move up towards 10 as the run continues. More sharpness and confidence—and even brashness—in the dancing could get the house seriously heated. Bolder choreography wouldn’t go amiss or be beyond the skills of this cast.

The subordinate “love story” thread could do well to be grown from what feels like a sidebar decoration into the show’s unifying theme. At present it varies from dance to drama to guitar noodling and feels unimportant in the shadow of the vivid upfront song performances. A dynamic dialog between the already excellent singing and an ongoing vibrant dance or dramatic potboiler would create the backbone that would pull Cover Story together and maximize these performers’ work.

The core idea—original hits getting covered for new generations and flops being covered into hits—also deserves to be allowed to more crisply define the musical arrangements and even the visuals of the show. It’s a great idea that will pay back in proportion to how much it’s worked.

Finally, there was no weak link in the cast, but two deserve a special callout for their singing: Alexis Gordon and Michael Esposito II. I hope the team keep developing this: it’s got room to grow.

—Bryan McLennon

Sweet with big heart

Every music lover has a list of songs on the soundtrack to their life. Often it is built by songs that play coincidentally during a momentous event, or lyrics that remind us of a person, place or experience. Each track is added one by one, event by event.

This is at the heart of Cover Song. A tale of young romance, heartbreak and redemption expressed through music and dance. This is a show that has a good soul and much potential to grow. There were a few outstanding performances and an overall sweetness that made it enjoyable. Cover Song was a very noble effort from this young cast.

—Jo-Anne Bishop

Cupidity

Outstanding show

This is exactly the kind of show that many people want to see at the Fringe. The kind of show that enables you to say in five or ten years’ time “I saw Jessica Fitzpatrick at the Fringe Festival before she got big!” And that’s not “big” in the sense of pregnancy or food issues.

Jessica has terrific high energy, writes with mischievous wit and mugs like the best of them. Definitely a sketch comedy artist in the ascendant.

So remember to get her autograph. Preferably on a copy of this review.

—Bryan McLennon

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

Brutal and romantic

Two troubled individuals meet in a bar. One is haunted by her past; the other is controlled by his anger.  Slow to start, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea quickly turns into an emotional roller coaster ride.  It is a tale of desperation, hope, love and forgiveness and by turns it is provocative, funny, touching and poignant.

The acting is superb: honest and believable. The characters, though rough around the edges, are easy to relate to and easy to love. When this roller coaster ride is over, you might find yourself wanting more. Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is my first “must see” pick of the Fringe.

—Jo-Anne Bishop

Truly, madly, deeply

Danny and Roberta meet in a dive bar. This is no “meet cute”—you can almost taste the stink of the bar, and they nearly come to blows over pretzels.

By sips and chugs, we learn their stories, stories that are frightening, sad, painful, alarming, and once in a while, darkly comic. And before the story takes us from the bar, we are hooked.

While the two leads are probably not chronologically old enough for the roles, Corey Schmitt and Melanie Godbout more than make up for this, delivering achingly powerful performances, grabbing their audience, and forcing us to care about these two broken souls. Maybe they live happily ever, maybe they don’t, but this reviewer will be surprised if you don’t find yourself rooting for them, and thinking about them long after the show ends.

—Laurie Bursch

A Different Drummer

The man launches into our presence like a gnarled tree stump coming vibrantly back to life. His body twists and stretches with returning vitality just as the branches of the great tree above us sway and dip in the chilling wind. Resurrected Thoreau wraps us in his history, philosophy and—most delightfully—his sometimes rough and demanding, sometimes impish, wit.

He doesn’t “invite” audience participation. Instead he circles us, jumps in with us from time to time and pulls us out at other times, assigning us tasks to build his story. Then he puts us back, usually giggling, for another go-round.

The London Fringe Festival always spans the spectrum from over-the-top ridiculous larks to challenging and confrontational dramas. Rather nicely, Dan Ebbs’ A Different Drummer serves up satisfying and balanced fare—a meaty nutritious centre all wrapped up in an engaging roll of fun.

—Bryan McLennon

Eurobeat: Almost Eurovision

Cheeky and fun

As someone who loves to watch Eurovision from afar, and revel in its absurdity, I was not quite sure what to expect from this performance going in—would it seize the satirical opportunity or would it be more an ode to what already exists? Ultimately, this show falls somewhere in the middle.

First and foremost, let me just say the cast of this show is extremely talented. The singing was phenomenal, but I would recommend sitting close as the background music would sometimes drown out their unamplified voices. What was perhaps best about this show was how they picked up and poked fun at the eccentricity of Eurovision over the ages, especially the way contestants of Eurovision always strangely merge classical and traditional European musical styling with pop-techno beats. The show also did a good job of not wandering too close to obvious ethnic/national stereotypes and managed to make the songs delightfully strange without wandering into uncomfortable/racist territory.

My only real complaints with this show were that it runs a touch long at two hours, longer than typical Fringe shows, and often the humour would make a beeline for the gutter (with a glut of not-so-subtle sexual innuendos and several instances where homosexuality appeared to be the butt of the “joke”) and may not be appropriate for a younger audience.

Having said that, if you can leave your politically correct pants at home and are looking for something light and cheeky, you are sure to have fun at this show.

—Jeffrey Preston

Fringe-Prov

Light-hearted fun

improv: a form of theatre that is created on the spot with little to no pre-planning. Sometimes improv is performed solo, other times collaboratively.

Fringe-Prov: See above and just add Fringe!

This collaborative effort from Shut the Front Door Improv was light-hearted and presented in a game show format similar to Whose Line is it Anyway? Using audience suggestions and direct participation they were able to create some absolutely hilarious moments. The members of the troupe are quick witted, animated and promise a different show every night. Fringe-Prov is an hour of pure silly fun.

—Jo-Anne Bishop

Geek Life

Nerddom at its finest

You never know what you’re going to get when you see a Fringe show. I usually cope with this inevitable fact by keeping my guard up. However, as soon as Slater got up on stage and began talking, I was sure that the next hour would be a great ride. Luckily, I was right. Geek Life is a fun, uplifting story with the perfect performer to tell it. In the production, Slater states that he wanted to make life more interesting, and that’s exactly what he manages here. His stunts and tricks make the audience re-imagine the mundane, and it’s a treat to experience. While the piece does have some problems with flow and structure, Slater’s personality is enough to carry the show. It’s highly enjoyable, and it may just help you get in touch with your inner geek.

—Emma Allison

The Goddesses

An endearing buddy romp

A play focused on the trials and friendship of four older women, The Goddesses is an endearing and authentic play that aims to balance the serious with the silly. Dealing with questions of death, friendship, and happiness, the writing is quite tight and has some very clever moments. Having said that, it is really the depth given to each character, as their nuanced layers are slowly unfolded as the play moves forward, that carries the show… along, of course, with four fabulous performances.

Speaking of the performers, I think my favourite part about The Goddesses is how much fun the performers are clearly having together putting on this play and I can honestly say their enthusiasm is infectious.

—Jeffrey Preston

Needs the right audience

Maybe it’s because I’m not the target audience for The Goddesses, but I just wasn’t engaged by this show. The pacing felt slow, and the conclusion was disappointing in its easy resolution. The whole concept of the goddesses also seemed jarring within the context of the rest of the piece. That being said, the play does reveal its better side when it ventures into wilder and more playful territory. Williams’ performance is excellent, and the show demonstrates the trials and tribulations of long standing friendships. If you want to see a fun production that discusses life beyond forty, you may appreciate The Goddesses more than I did.

—Emma Allison

The Greatest Guitarist in the World

Flying fingers

In his quest to find the greatest guitarist in the world, Colin Godbout shows off his incredible guitar picking skills, playing as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Chet Atkins, Django Reinhardt and Lenny Breau. It’s like a history lesson from the world’s coolest music teacher.

Godbout takes his audience on a musical adventure, seamlessly blending dozens of songs into the hour-long show. He’s a talented player, employing a variety of techniques to tell his tale. It’s mesmerizing to watch his fingers fly across the strings, and his picking has audiences clapping and toe-tapping along. This is a show for people who love music as much as Godbout clearly does.

The only complaint June 8’s audience members had was the party taking place on the apk’s patio. The venue did a real disservice to the performers that night, as the pop beats from outside tended to overpower Godbout’s quieter moments.

—Erika Faust

Grumpus Gets Revenge

Grumpus is a standout

Terrorism, political rants, alien abductions and an orange jumpsuit are just part of what you’ll get in Grumpus Gets Revenge. The writing is so imaginative and outside the box, and Kenneth Brown’s portrayal of Grumpus is spot-on. He has mastered the art of storytelling and had the entire audience captivated, with minimal movement around the stage.

Brown is a man who clearly has years of stage experience and is a very skilled actor. Without bells and whistles, this show is an example of the quality of work good writing, a wild imagination, and incredible acting can produce.

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

Happy Days

Seeing Beckett done well is like seeing Shakespeare done well. The fog in your brain lifts. Words become sentences that you understand, not by concentrating and translating, but simply by facing the stage. The text morphs from interleaved monologues into natural dialogues.  Meaning becomes obvious. Story triumphs over style.

But that’s rare. It takes great skill and understanding on the part of actors and director to find and express that simplicity. In the absence of understanding, the text will usually be told by the actors, full of sound and fury, but sadly, signifying nothing.

In their production, Passionfool Theatre may have staked a claim that will take a long time to surpass: At 60 minutes, they may have performed the shortest Happy Days since Fonzie and Potsie pulled out of the studio parking lot for the last time.

Beckett’s Happy Days can be done as a classic “house-down-by-eight, in-the-bar-by-ten” two act, or a 90+ minute no-interval offering. Even the film—and cameras abhor a pause—comes in at 77 minutes.

This production is a melodic, textured violin concerto played in double time entirely on the top string. Not quite “one note,” but definitely not with the most minimal range and subtlety to make Beckett even modestly intelligible. It’s a one-hour Flight of The Winniebee.

The set is innovative. But it is so at odds with the text as to even further confuse the simplicity of Beckett’s work.  Limitless sand and unending sun is the classic landscape of loss and abandonment. In that world Winnie’s few links to the past still exist because she has kept them in her bag, not as her most important or most beloved possessions, but as her only possessions. Her attempts to find meaning and importance in a toothbrush because it is the only intellectual challenge left are sad and poignant. In this production, Winnie is surrounded by the detritus of the past like a hoarder. Trying to find meaning in one trivial artifact when she has many artifacts of far greater interest and challenge within reach turns that poignancy into the silly ramblings of a silly woman.

Beckett doesn’t have to be corrected. This isn’t “A day that changes everything” as Passionfool’s promo claims. That’s the old style. There are no more days. The sun never sets. On the empire or anything else. This isn’t an episode of Hoarding: Buried Alive; it’s the progress of life without the divisions of days, weeks, months or years. Or maybe it’s something else.

—Bryan McLennon

The Hatter

Not quite mad enough

It’s clear that The Hatter has potential. When the story dives into its source material, it is both charming and engaging. The lines are twisty and lyrical, and Wade’s performance plays to an audience’s sympathies. The problems begin when the piece tries to turn the zany Mad Hatter into a merely flawed man. The language becomes boring and the story is clunky. Ultimately, The Hatter needs redrafting to become as delightful as it could be. It also needs a better warning, as I doubt young children will enjoy the dark undertones and identity crises that make up the play.

—Emma Allison

Headshots and Healing Potions

Geek flags fly

Calling all geeks in London (and I know there are a few of you): head to Fringe and you’ll feel right at home at Headshots and Healing Potions.

This show is made up of 10 vignettes that gamers will appreciate—if you know what “teabagging” means, if you can hum the Megaman II theme song, or if you’ve ever bitched out a noob, chances are pretty good you’ll have a great time at Headshots. If you read that sentence and had no idea what I was talking about, well, this might not be the show for you.

Each of the three cast members—Kevin Milne, Kaitlyn Rietdyk and Joel Szaefer—brings something hilarious to the table, and their love of games shines in every skit. Szaefer in particular stands out, whether he’s voicing the infuriatingly vague computer in a text-based adventure game or reminiscing about the “good old games” while waiting in line at a midnight release for his son.

There are a lot of fun moments in the show, and the gamers in the audience had a great time on opening night. Though there were some issues with timing, and some of the scenes dragged on just a bit, overall this is a show that’s on like Donkey Kong.

—Erika Faust

Hipsters Have Feelings Too

I liked this show before it was cool

Lensless glasses. Fixies. Vintage clothes. Instagram. Do I have your attention yet, hipsters?

Whether they’re wearing t-shirts “ironically” or hating on other hipsters, this social group is something of an enigma—one Xave Ruth hilariously explains in Hipsters Have Feelings Too.

Ruth’s journey from angsty teenager to detached man-child unfolds with songs, stories and very impressive outfit changes.

The songs are the highlight of this show, which includes more than one love song that will make you laugh out loud. The second song—from Ruth’s university days—is the funniest of all, and you may find yourself singing it days later.

Though a couple of Ruth’s stories meander a bit, and the pacing was just a little uneven near the end, overall this show’s a lot of fun—trust me, I’ve been, I would know.

—Erika Faust

Iago vs. Hamlet

Iago collides with Hamlet with hilarious results

From London Fringe staple Jayson McDonald, this show is everything we have come to expect from his performances, but this time he’s brought Harry Edison along for the ride. Similar to last year’s detective genre romp, this year he has turned his offbeat comedy stylings to the world of Shakespeare, pulling together a world where Othello‘s Iago collides with Hamlet with hilarious results.

For Shakespeare fans or just people looking for a good laugh, this is a show worth checking out.

—Jeffrey Preston

Must-see comedy

Ever thought about mixing Hamlet and Othello together? No? Well, you should have, because Iago vs. Hamlet is a brilliant imagining of what would happen if a Shakespearean hero met another one of the playwright’s villains. In typical McDonald fashion, the language is twisty and intelligent, and the dynamic between Edison and McDonald quickly establishes the story’s personalities. The piece is so excellent because it’s aware of itself, and the references and staging within the production add to the hilarity. Prepare to be doubled over in laughter, as Iago vs. Hamlet is a delightful standoff that’s sure to please.

—Emma Allison

I’m Thinking About Thinking About Crying

Great piece all around

This piece is somewhat undersold by its program description, which fails to really draw one in to what is in fact a fantastic piece of theatre about family, love and loss told by a versatile and engaging storyteller whose performance didn’t miss a beat. Sean Jacklin was served well by Gary Kar-Wang Mok’s simple and recognizable—yet in no way banal—script, with the excellent writing augmented by clever video and multimedia segments to tell the story of a son sifting through his and his father’s relationship after the fact. Moments of those multimedia portions of the story that could have seemed oddly irrelevant or tangential were made quite charming by the play’s own self-awareness and the performer’s confidence.

The venue’s technology, however, could have better served the piece: audio quality was less than stellar and sound clips were near unintelligibly quiet, especially when the audience was laughing (which was often). The fussy audio was more than made up for by the fact that the piece was both sincerely funny and deeply sad and Jacklin’s performance was believable, energetic and frankly wonderful to watch.

—Clara Madrenas

The Italian Lesson

A funny show for all!

The Italian Lesson is a refreshing, lighthearted show about high-maintenance Mrs. Clancy’s Italian lesson. Interrupted by her children, a puppy, a manicurist, household staff and a slew of phone calls, Sonja Gustafson is hilarious as Mrs. Clancy.
The majority of the lines are sung operatically, which suits this wealthy character, and well-timed cues by the pianist indicate interruptions. Gustafson has a beautiful singing voice, and great comedic timing. This is a fun show for all ages, and as an added bonus, the costumes are fantastic.

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

Keith Brown: Exchange

Keith Brown is a classic travelling magician—the sort that shows up at a saloon in a dapper suit and tie, tips his hat, draws a card from it and presents it over the bar.  But before the barkeep can finish reading “Have Suitcase, Will Conjure,” the card vanishes in a puff of smoke.

OK, that’s not a spoiler. There’s no puff-of-smoke trick in the show. There isn’t even a hat. But there are cards, a suitcase, and both classic and modern props.  As a portmanteau magician, Keith Brown uses simple stuff to weave a fabric of consternation, befuddlement and anxiety that everyone, including the maestro, hopes will end in redemption.

It’s always impressive to see great modern magic on a stage in the distance or on your media, but for me nothing beats the visceral experience of a verifiably living person just a short distance away from me in the same time and space creating illusions, some of which I leave the theatre humming, or at least puzzling over….

—Bryan McLennon

The Last Straight Man in Theatre

A mad man in the theatre

Kurt Fitzpatrick brings us an ensemble piece… all by himself. With the aid of video projection, he delivers a cast of odd, offbeat, and delightful characters, half recorded, half live action.

It’s a mad mixture. “Special effects” that are all the better for being so low tech. Cats and national anthems. Scenes that run forwards, then backward. Yes, it’s entirely weird.

While many of the characters on screen are lower key in their craziness, on stage, Fitzpatrick brings a manic child-like nuttiness that’s entirely endearing, like a kid beseeching you to come out and play.

While this show may not be for everyone, for those who are willing to enter Kurt’s crazy world, you will be well rewarded.

—Laurie Bursch

Maintenant

A mature expression against bullying

It’s refreshing to see a group of dancers—an industry typically associated with bullies, peer pressure and cliques—take on the theme of bullying, and handle it so maturely.

This young group of dancers carried the theme out well throughout the show with smart song choices, choreography and voice-overs. While some dances were choreographed and performed better than others, it’s definitely worth taking children and youth to. This performance manages to get their point across without being too in-your-face, and would be a valuable experience for any young dance fans.

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

Creative resistance

What I found most interesting about this performance was not its content, specifically, but that the show itself stands in direct opposition to bullying by providing young men and women a safe and accepting space to reveal an intimate part of themselves. Simply by performing, these young people are making a bold, public statement about their own self-confidence and hopefully will inspire the same type of courage in their peers.

As someone who isn’t well versed in dance, I cannot necessarily speak to the depth or difficulty of the choreography, but these young dancers’ skills were quite impressive. Having seen the two other dance shows at Fringe previously, it was fascinating to compare where these dancers are on their development path; I would wager that much of the cast is destined for great things.

I think this is an interesting and thoughtful show perfect for both young and old audiences alike. Great work by all those involved.

—Jeffrey Preston

Midway to Angie

More than midway

A black-box theatre, minimal lighting, and a trunk of small items are all that Jen Viens has to create Angie from her teens to her seventies, and those around her. It’s not an easy task.

However, Viens is a very talented performer, and she uses what she has to show us snapshots of Angie’s life: loves, choices, travels, all those pieces that make a person.

The script makes great use of Viens’ skill with accents and dance—while I didn’t see the program, I would guess that this script was written for her.

However, the script is where this show fails—there’s not yet enough there for us to really care about the character that Viens has so carefully crafted.

It’s a good collaboration that has the potential to be great. I look forward to seeing what’s next for this duo.

—Laurie Bursch

Minding Dad

A heartwarming father and son story

Minding Dad is the story of a man dealing with the deteriorating health of his father as his memory gradually fades due to Alzheimer’s, and the effect this has on their relationship. It’s a story that is familiar to many of us, making this play incredibly relatable.

Kenneth Brown and Jon Paterson are believable as father and son, and their on-stage chemistry is sweet to watch. The story shows both the frustration the son feels as he’s left to care for his father on his own and the subtle humorous moments shared between a father and son who love each other very much. With glimpses into their past, this play is heartwarming and incredibly real.

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

Miracle Max: Illusions of Grandeur

Marvelous Miracle Max

Here’s the disclaimer. I love one-man shows. And I love magic. And I love those moments in theatre where I’m touched by a performer’s story, whether it is real or fictional.

Steve Seguin brings the magic, both literally and figuratively. A skilled and engaging performer, he gives us feats of magic and illusion, juggling, and a whole lot of laughs. Oh, and graphs. (Perhaps this is something that happens when you entertain corporate audiences.)

If there’s not enough magic in your world, spend an hour with Miracle Max.

—Laurie Bursch

Myra’s Story

Outstanding show

Myra’s Story is a surprisingly bright and engaging ride down a deep and darkening road to destitution.

Jennifer Cornish creates a sympathetic character not out of our pity but out of our almost paradoxical admiration for her acceptance of what she believes to be her preordained fate. Thus brought to life, Myra performs a deft dance between her impish nature, the grind of life and death and her own approaching doom.

Brian Foster’s script has terrific balance and flow and Darlene Spencer’s direction honours this by progressing through it so smoothly that when the final approach and landing arrives after an uncannily short 90 minutes, it draws the performance to a perfectly satisfying close.

Is this a classic tragedy of fate beyond our control? Or is it a modern tragedy about believing that something is inevitable?

See it.

—Bryan McLennon

Occupy the Man Cave

Cowering in the man cave

Good theatre should inspire. Enlighten. Educate, but gently. “Bludgeon,” however, is not a word that should be used in this context.

From their website, “Theatre Provocateur’s raison-d’être is to present live one-act dramas… on various social issues that affect individuals, families and the community. The purpose of these plays is to educate, raise consciousness and move people to action, and give voice to people affected by the issues presented.”

It’s an ambitious and worthwhile goal, and it’s obvious that the writers/performers care deeply about their subject matter. There are some good lines, a few good laughs, a couple of compelling moments. The women give it their all in multiple roles, and song-and-dance numbers.

But sadly, it doesn’t add up to a watchable show. Perhaps your best “move to action” would be donating the $10 ticket price to a woman-centred charity, and wait for Theatre Provocateur’s next show.

—Laurie Bursch

Riding Hood

Stunning visuals and movement

Despite my limited exposure or knowledge of dance, I still found this performance quite enjoyable. The choreography was impressive, especially in the group scenes, and the overall ability of the performers was second to none. For me, the dancer portraying the wolf was particularly noteworthy, as she brought a tremendous amount of intensity and swagger to the role that was captivating. The costumes were also quite impressive and really helped to set the tone for the show.

For both veteran fans of The Dance Movement and even for newbies like myself, Riding Hood is an engaging and entertaining performance and well worth your time at this year’s Fringe.

—Jeffrey Preston

A powerful and gorgeous piece

I’ll be honest: I know little to nothing about dance. Despite this, I thought Riding Hood was incredibly beautiful. The choreography is not only visually compelling, but it helps form a powerful retelling that focuses on dominance, innocence and victimhood. Little Red Riding Hood is a story that’s prevalent within our culture, and The Dance Movement finds a way to make it original. The staging and use of costumes clearly establish both internal and external conflict, and they help make it a thought provoking piece. Even if you’re not a dance expert, there’s plenty to enjoy and discuss in this show.

—Emma Allison

Roommates

An average bromance story for the MTV lover

This show is done in the style of an MTV reality show. It tells the story of two roommates as they grow up and grow apart, making the transition from teen to adult. The plot was predictable, following the formula used by many sitcoms, but the sexual innuendo and immature humour earned the cast their fair share of laughs.

The characters were what you would expect: the bromance, the controlling girlfriend, the super cool female best friend, the hot roommate, and of course, the goof. Overall, the actors played their roles well, and if reality TV is your thing, it’s definitely worth a watch.

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

Rosaline and Juliet

Support. These. Performers (please!)

I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into this performance and, to be honest, I likely would have glossed over it had I not been asked to review it. I mean, yet another re-interpretation of Shakespeare right? Probably nothing to see here….

Wrong. So very, very wrong.

Rosaline and Juliet is a witty, sharp, and hilarious interrogation of high school society, gender and the world of teenage drama that feels kind of like Mean Girls meets Glee. That is not to say the show isn’t original, though, because I have definitely not seen anything quiet like this aside from perhaps Hamlet 2, although this show is far superior. The humour is fresh and original and, while the jokes can be subtle at times, they always pack a heck of a punch, leaving me to chortle away with delight.

Insightful and clever, it’s impossible to feel anything but happy after seeing this show. So for your own good go out and see it, have a good laugh, and support these brilliant young performers! You won’t regret it.

—Jeffrey Preston

A surprising treat

In truth, I had low expectations when I walked into this show. Imagine my joy when I was pleasantly surprised. Rosaline and Juliet has a pretty solid script and a cast with a knack for comedic timing. Every time the story started getting bland, there was a witty and perceptive joke that would make me laugh again. In particular, Rebecca Soulliere and Chelsea Reaume stood out for their hilarious performances. Sure, the production has its problems, but it remains amusing and accurate in how it portrays adolescence. If you’re in the mood to see something honest and silly, go for this one.

—Emma Allison

Screaming, But Not

An enthralling coming-of-age story

Is it better to keep your family happy by pretending to be someone you’re not, or stay true to yourself and lose what’s important to you?

Screaming, But Not tells the story of a religious family coming to terms with losing the daughter they thought they knew. Avery is a good girl, beloved by her parents and adored by her younger siblings… until her secret is discovered.

When Avery’s mother learns her daughter is gay, Avery’s entire world collapses. From trying to show her parents she is still the same daughter they always had to navigating tricky social situations at school, Avery must find her way in a world that doesn’t seem to want her.

As Avery, Cassidy Hicks handles the bulk of the play, delivering her lines with such emotion it’s impossible not to get swept up in her character’s experiences. Anna Bernard deftly portrays a variety of characters, from Avery’s disappointed mother to her supportive drama teacher.

At times humorous, at other times heartbreaking, Screaming, But Not is an important play that’s not to be missed.

—Erika Faust

Shape Shift

Don’t miss it

Spectacle. Pure spectacle. That’s the only way to really describe this performance. Merging classic and modern dance forms, there is never a dull moment in Shape Shift as the performers do a fantastic job of telling an engaging and endearing story through motion and passion. The level of skill these dancers possess is astonishing and the choreography will leave you breathless.

As someone who is not traditionally a fan of dance and movement pieces, I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed this performance, it was truly beautiful, and cannot recommend it enough. Don’t let this show be the one you let slip by this year because you will regret missing it.

—Jeffrey Preston

Worth seeing

I didn’t think I would be half as engrossed in Shape Shift as I was. Fortunately for me, it proved to be a marvel of a show. The dancing is absolutely stunning, and the piece demonstrates the power of body movement and staging. The talent of the performers is impressive—it’s amazing how effectively they express their emotions through physical means. It’s not just the dancing that’s compelling, either. Props are used well to communicate themes, and the musical score is fantastic. If you love dancing, or just want to see something that isn’t traditional theatre, this is the show to see.

—Emma Allison

The Show Must Go On

Hilarious and gifted storyteller

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a one-man show about children’s theatre, but was immediately captivated by Jeff Leard’s presence onstage. The show is full of the funny and bizarre moments one would expect from a 186-show children’s theatre tour, and with Leard’s unique and highly energetic delivery an his simple but very effective stagecraft, not only did the humour shine through but the sweeter and more poignant moments did as well. Highly recommended.

—Clara Madrenas

Super

Super silly

Ever wished you had superpowers? According to the seven “special” human beings in Super, it may not be so great after all.

Super tells the story of seven strangers with unusual powers who are chosen to save Earth from great evil. Unfortunately, there’s not really a “super” one in the entire bunch; as each member of this elite team stands up to share his or her story, each power is revealed to be more awful than the last.

The eight members of the cast work well together as they help each person tell the story of how they discovered their powers. It’s tough to write a review without spoiling any of the fun, because the reveals of each power and name are the best parts of the show, but I will say a certain manic “Master” stands out.

During the show, there’s a sense that this is all building to something great, that somehow, this strange assortment of people will come together in a fantastic and hilarious way. Unfortunately, there’s not much of a resolution; Super is definitely about the journey, not the destination.

—Erika Faust

[They Fight!]

Get ready to rumble!

They battled, they brawled and they crossed their swords. And boy, it looked like fun!

[They Fight!] is a stage direction found in many theatre productions, movie and television scripts. Sometimes the fights are humorous, other times brutal and bloody. But from duels to all-out brawls, the fights in this show are sure to entertain.

Drawing inspiration from Shakespearean characters, vampire slayers, nerds and more, this production is lighthearted, lively and a fun 40 minutes of watching people duke it out. It ends with one of the most entertaining brawls you will see in London without hearing approaching sirens and running feet.

—Jo-Anne Bishop

[They Fight. And Again. And Again.]

“Oh, I hate theatre. All that talky-talky.”

For anyone who’s ever decried the lack of action in theatre, [They Fight!] is for you. Seven action-filled fights, from Shakespeare to Slayer (as in Buffy). With Brian Brockenshire, currently the fight choreographer in London, in charge of the on-stage mayhem, and great costuming by a Brickenden Award-winning team, the talented cast provides an entertaining hour, with enough talky-talky to set the scene for the fight to follow.

There are a few stand-out performances, including those by Nic Bishop; and perhaps it’s all his time in period dress at the Palace, but Brandon Stafford looks like he was born to wield a sword.

As with any fireworks show, the closing piece is the climax. If only all bar fights were this much fun to watch. (No actors were injured in the making of this show.) (At least I hope not.)

—Laurie Bursch

Threads

Powerful story, engaging performer

Threads weaves together the personal and the political in telling the story of Miller’s brave and fiercely independent mother navigating youth, war, and heartbreak in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Miller is a competent performer, though at times seemed nervous amidst awkwardly placed sound cues and overly plain staging. The script is fascinating, balances powerful calm with action well, and winds together its multiple storylines with ease. This touching and inspiring true story is certainly worth the price of admission as it’s got more than a handful of moments that’ll send shivers down your spine.

—Clara Madrenas

Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Best in the fest

I honestly do not think I can say enough good things about this performance. The storyline is absolutely engrossing, walking the delicate balance between historical narrative and punchy comedy. Even more, though, Travis’ performance is unparalleled, as she carries six roles simultaneously, often in conversation with each other, and does so seamlessly.

Hilarious, touching, thought-provoking and educational, Til Death has “best in the fest” written all over it. Stop reading this review and go see it! Now!

—Jeffrey Preston

And you thought having six wives was impressive

Out of all the shows I’ve seen, this is the one I’m most likely to call awe-inspiring. Travis’ acting is exceptional, as she not only makes each personality distinguishable, but she finds a way to make them nuanced with very little time on her hands. The piece is hilarious, and it also provides compelling messages about womanhood, love and relationships. Its biggest problem is how it fails to adhere to the rules of its own world for the sake of the theme. However, I found this fairly forgivable in a performance that exudes such talent and skill. Henry the Eighth’s romantic history has always fascinated the public, and this telling of events is sure to engage audiences—especially one with such a spectacular actor at its heart.

—Emma Allison

Trailers, Credits, Prologues & Epitaphs

Sympathy.

It don’t come easy.

Even if you start with a script where the characters are undisputedly the blameless victims of the outrageously unjust application of slings, arrows and heavier ordnance, those characters must still earn the sympathy of the audience before an angry monologue will find any resonance.

An actor who launches into a perfectly justified diatribe without first establishing compassion—or at least respect—between the audience and either the actor’s character or the target of the outrage is just lecturing the playgoer or lecturing the air.

This show is a classic “let’s get edgy” with a touchy current topic. The kind of show that is usually withdrawn when there is a recurrence of the tragedy that inspired it. But not in this case.

A problem with being on the edge is that if you don’t make a safety line to the audience, they won’t care if you fall.

Sympathy.

There are no shortcuts.

—Bryan McLennon

Yarn

“Knowing that you’re crazy doesn’t make the crazy things stop happening.”
—Mark Vonnegut: Eden Express

Alex Eddington has great chops for storytelling: a mischievous, absurd manner with a tune and delightfully clever uses of props both musical and not. He picked a great story to tell, both in setting and plot. Descent into mental anguish is usually a dark trip, but laughter can provide a poignant and even disturbing counterpoint to make the journey more engaging. This show starts well and begins to take us on that journey.

“He’ll take you up, he’ll bring you down,
He’ll plant your feet back firmly on the ground.”
—Moody Blues: Legend of A Mind

I agree, I agree, that quote is a bit corny. But this is the sentiment of the performer-audience contract: Once I’ve agreed to get onboard your story, challenge me, make me uncomfortable, make me cringe, change the plot, change character, drop out of character, upend the storyline, reverse direction, but stay in charge and take me to the end, even if the end is as inconclusive as the opening quote of this review.

“I suffered for my art, now it’s your turn.”
—Neil Innes: Protest Song

Deliberately crashing the storytelling vehicle to illustrate a crash in the content of the story usually only works for a playgoer, if at all, the first time around. It has the surprise novelty of a gimmick. Subsequently it just breaks the contract, which risks leaving the audience cold and disappointed. Not disappointed in where the story went, but how a clearly capable performer, who’s putting terrific energy into his work, seemed to suddenly lose interest in the trip he was taking us on and the insight he was giving us.

This show is has a lot of good fun and thought in it but, at the moment, is in sum, disappointing. However, I will definitely making plans to catch his next show.

“Here’s an ending that’s galling for sure,
Sir Ralph used it often on tour,
When ready to go
At the end of a show
He always left them calling.”
—F. Brill: The Hamster in the Wheel of Time

Clever the first time around, e’n it?

—Bryan McLennon

Enjoyable storytelling

Yarn is created by a machine, spinning and twisting fibres together; often using the wool of a sheared lamb. Yarn is created by a storyteller, spinning and twisting tunes and tales together; often using a lamb puppet.

The description of Yarn tells us of a young man who went to a lonely Scotland island in an attempt to find himself, and lost his mind instead. And while the story lost me a few times on its travels over the many hills and valleys on the Scottish Isle of Mull, the story was very well told. Although I didn’t find it entirely cohesive, Yarn was an enjoyable entry to this year’s Fringe.

—Jo-Anne Bishop

Thanks to the 2013 review team—Emma Allison, Jo-Anne Bishop, Laurie Bursch, Erika Faust, Clara Madrenas, Bryan McLennon, Jeffrey Preston, and Kirsten Rosenkrantz—for your opening weekend efforts.

Thanks to Kathy Navackas, Alison Challis, Sue Garner, Sarah Green, and all the venue managers, techs, troupers and others who make the festival run so smoothly.

And finally, thank you to all of the writers, directors, stage managers, and performers who put their work and themselves on stage to provoke, educate, enthrall, and entertain audiences!

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