Opening weekend Fringe reviews

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.

This entry is a compilation of the reviews posted to the Fringe forums as part of Theatre in London’s opening weekend review project. I’d like to thank the six other reviewers—bezvezeonako, Don Hey (dhey), Donald D’Haene, JeanWilliams, Laurie Bursch (LittleBird) and uhu—for their willingness to adjust their personal viewing schedules and go where I pointed them, Kathy Navackas for her support and great ideas—having organized just six people for three days, I’ve gained an even greater respect for what she and Alison Challis do—and the Fringe for making the project feasible.

A MOST Unimportant Criminal

I must admit I was a bit confused by this piece of theatre. I found the content over all hard to follow, and even taking a day to think about…still find the story unclear. Maybe that’s the point. That being said, Colette Nichol is a joy to behold on stage. She has a great commanding presence both dynamic and enthralling with an excellent execution of all characters. Her use of props and creative costuming are spectacular. –JeanWilliams

An Evening With Nick Wallace

Take your kids to see Nick Wallace!

Whereas everyone is trying really hard to be creative and come up with something super weird, and therefore different than that which had been seen before, Nick Wallace rides on the back of masters from the past to deliver brilliant performance of astonishment. Nick is not only a magician, he is also a guide that will take you to the beginnings of spirituality and deception.

Presentation is developed through many different mediums, and is entirely consuming. There won’t be many moments where you will be able to relax, keeping your mind focused on trick after trick is Nick’s charge. Involvement with the audience is a big part of the show. I would rather see less of Fringe staff being chosen for tricks as that can make one feel a bit fooled. The tricks were performed flawlessly, and some of them will really leave you thinking. The highlight of the show is Nick’s acting performance, the spotlight is on him, and he does shine under it!

This play is a definite must see for any age, but children will surely delight in it the most, so take your kids to see Nick Wallace. –bezvezeonako

Antoine Feval

Go see this show!

[Antoine Feval opened on Monday night and thus wasn’t officially part of the project; however, reviewer LittleBird did write this:]
I saw Chris Gibbs perform this show last year, and while I’m too addled from seeing 16 shows in three days to tell you much, I will say that this should be on your “must-see” list for this year’s Fringe! –Laurie Bursch

archy and mehitabel

Thought Provoking Fun

Jeff Culbert’s one man show is a comical tale and a sly satire of the human condition. He slips easily between his whimsical characters and brings their contrasting viewpoints to life, changing persona and manner so completely and smoothly that he makes each metamorphosis seem almost real. There are some breathtaking soliloquies and many crafty verses. I recommend archy & mehitabel to those inclined toward a more thought provoking type of fun. But be warned: afterward you may never be able to look at insects in quite the same way. –Don Hey


Some baggage with Baggage

Baggage is, at its heart, a heartfelt show. The story of two cousins finally travelling to Europe together, both running from their “real” lives, has both wonderful and thought-provoking moments. The three actors are engaging, and capably handle their roles.

Unfortunately, this feels like the work of an unsophisticated playwright. The exposition is sometimes clumsy, the kind of writing where one character “reminds” the other about something that both already know. The script was written by one of the leads, and I suspect that some of its problems could have been mitigated by another set of eyes, such as a director.

The sole male in the cast plays multiple roles, at first to the confusion of at least this reviewer: “Why does the guy in Amsterdam look so much like the husband back at home?” He’s forced to contend with a range of accents, mostly successfully.

Baggage could be compared to a European vacation where the almost constant clouds occasionally break for some glorious sunshine. There’s a good play in here, but for now we’re just seeing glimpses. –Laurie Bursch

Bean There Café

A play that needs to lay off the caffeine

There are a lot of things to like in Bean There Café: the café owner’s bartender-like mannerisms and wisdom, the neurotic businesswoman and her illicit affair, the snide private remarks that become humorously public, and the perfect door-opening ring that would define the scene even without the true-to-life set. The small cast effectively distinguishes their multiple roles (although two actors play one role at different times for no apparent reason). Had the play focused on the single story and few characters the first few minutes appeared to set up, I think it might have been a favourite.

I didn’t find the comings and goings of the rest of the day’s patrons nearly as interesting. Each one is introduced as a broad stereotype, which is an understandable timesaver to use for short-form theatre, but there’s little depth given to any of them. Even after hearing the (funny, but somewhat inadequate) rationalization for aspects of the coffee shop assistant’s character I’m still left with a nagging negative feeling about the portrayal. And unfortunately the resolutions to most of the (seven?) storylines seem perfunctory, including a linking mechanism that’s basically a deus ex machina.

There are some good life lessons buried in the stories, and several admirable performances, but ultimately Bean There Café wasn’t my cup of tea. –Peter Janes

Being at Home with Claude

Being in the Theatre with Claude

Essentially a two-man show with a couple of auxiliary characters, Being At Home With Claude is a whodunit for almost everyone involved: the three policemen… and the audience. As the detective tries to build the story that explains how the bloodied corpse got that way, and what the judge has to do with the incident, and who the young man who called them is, the audience is right there with him, trying to put the pieces together.

This is an intense script, and one that relies on two very strong leads. With quiet, controlled desperation, Ryan Fisher gives a great performance as Yves, the mysterious street hustler. Sadly, he outshines Lorne Hiro, as the detective, who confuses rapid speech with intensity. However, in Hiro’s defence, he’s also playing a major role in another show in the same venue – I can’t imagine that taking on two difficult roles at the same time wouldn’t be extremely challenging.

The show is still very worthy of an audience; I’m hoping to see it again closer to the end of its London Fringe run to see how the balance between the two leads has changed. –Laurie Bursch

Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco

Crazy Gary’s Confusing Disco

“Okay, so he’s the neighbour, right?” “Wait, is that the boyfriend, or a different guy?” “Wow, he makes a surprisingly attractive woman.” “Oh, so now I think I get it…”

When I’m in the proper frame of mind (sharp, not sleep-deprived from excessive Fringing), this is the kind of show that I love – one with converging and overlapping storylines, where it takes some time to puzzle out all the connections. And yes, they are connected.

Unfortunately, a few things get in the way of this production. From what I could gather, the show is set in Wales, and the three actors have chosen to use accents. The question is, accents from where? Never mind the story, I was busy trying to puzzle this out. The other problem is pacing – this is an intense show, and it’s played at 45 rpm, rather than 33. (See for those too young to understand this reference.)

The show does have its moments, most notably Chris Lang’s work with a sequinned jacket, a cat and, well, just wait for it. (God help me, but I laughed.) Lorne Hiro and Andy Cockburn also turn in good performances, accents aside.

It’s an interesting show, and certainly worth a look. –Laurie Bursch

Fully Insured in “Cockfight!”

As per usual the men of Fully Insured never fail to entertain! I found this show full of high energy and very engaging. It was a laugh riot. Very clever with unending fun. Judging by the reacion from the audience this show is a huge success. A must see for anyone who likes a good “cockfight!” –JeanWilliams

Giving Into Light

Giving into love

On January 1, a musical friend declared 2009 to be the Year of Love. Alison Wearing’s “comedic drama/travelogue” epitomizes that declaration.

After she discovers that having a baby isn’t at all like getting a cat, Alison’s autobiographical story takes us through her first few years as a new mother to Leo. Her “post-partum illumination” finds her fiercely devoted to her child, and equally fiercely defensive of his health against environmental threats including choking smog and Sea-Doos. With the support of her partner (and I don’t think this is giving anything away, since it’s written up in the Fringe program and formed the core of her showcase performance) she and Leo move to a small village in Mexico, where she discovers… well, you’ll have to see for yourself.

There’s not a wrong note in this production. Alison is a masterful storyteller with a firm handle on the many different characters she invokes. Her Mexican accents in particular are wonderfully consistent yet distinct; I’m sure a native speaker would be able to identify the specific region of the country each of the characters is from. And she’s got a lovely singing voice that she uses to great effect, both live and recorded.

Giving Into Light is a magical, musical expression of love, and an early candidate for my favourite Fringe show of 2009. –Peter Janes

Grimes of the Borough

Holowitz does Fringe 2009 proud!

In his director’s note, Adam Holowitz writes he, “wanted to maintain the sensibility of a ‘love letter to the English countryside,’ as well as bringing out the darker elements that Crabbe alludes to in his writing.” Mission accomplished, young man. The minimalistic set and lighting, wonderful costumes by Becky Lenko combined with Lenko’s improvisational fiddling certainly set the bleak atmosphere for this patron. It is my understanding that Holowitz assigned roles and didn’t audition his cast. Wisely, he knew he’d be able to set a tone and atmosphere by the mere presence of performers such as his mentor, Don Fleckser, who is outstanding. In fact, the tone of this production is set from the word go as the magnificent Deborah Mitchell as Mrs. Henningsham speaks her first words of self-righteous indignation. Holowitz and Fringe 2009 should be proud of this production of Grimes of The Borough. –Donald D’Haene

Harper Girl Does Canada

Redonkulous fun

Miss Ruby Jones hearts Stephen Harper. That much is clear. The rest will be revealed.

(Sorry Dan, I had to.)

In what must be the most topical show of the Fringe, Rusa Jeremic mixes music, video, audience participation and good old-fashioned live performance to create a satire with heart and just a tiny bit of obsession. Ostensibly in London because “the Post” says Stephen Harper (yes, the Prime Minister) will be here, the self-appointed head of his fan club searches high and low (literally) through the Spriet Theatre to find her snookums.

It’s hard not to like Ruby. As Jeremic plays her, she’s enthusiastically but not quite eye-glazingly naive, willing to toe the party line set by her leader to a fault. When that fault arrives, in the form of a $160 billion betrayal—and his refusal to follow the Supreme Court’s decision on Omar Khadr, and proroguing Parliament, and appointing senators, and… well, the list goes on, doesn’t it—she’s set adrift, and finds herself seeking others to be her true-blue companion.

I found the live performance (which fortunately accounts for quite a bit of the production) very funny—only laugh-out-loud funny at times, but always humorous. The video segments were hit and miss, sometimes due to length, and a cleverly-worded song parody (which I won’t spoil) is a good fit but, ironically, a bit difficult for an audience to sing along to.

I get the feeling people are shying away from this one because of the apparent subject matter. Regardless of your political (or apolitical) leanings, Harper Girl Does Canada is worth a shot. –Peter Janes

He Ain’t Heavy

This show is fantastic! Well written! Well formed! Well played! The use of lighting and sound were superb. There was a wonderful chemistry between the actors and their timing was impeccable. The story is very endearing and I was easily drawn in. The songs add an extra bit of heightened excitement. –JeanWilliams

Head First

Diving In, Head First

This show is why I love the Fringe. Six brightly costumed dancer-acrobats and a flamenco dancer. Silks and elastic harnesses. Great music. A performance that fills up the McManus stage in at least three dimensions.

Special mention should be made of the opening dance, which, while not as showy as some of the subsequent pieces, was one of the most beautiful, highly charged performances I’ve seen in a very long time.

While opening night of this world-premiere show had its glitches, I expect that they’ll be ironed out by the next show, making this a polished gem of this year’s Fringe.

P.S. I wonder if my 12-foot ceilings would be high enough for any of those props…? –Laurie Bursch

Hot Dog Vendor

Some people get what they deserve

Trevor Sullivan, the hot dog vendor in question, isn’t the sort of person I’d want to hang out with. He’s self-absorbed yet self-unaware, feels entitled yet put upon, and through his impressions of the people he interacts with reveals himself to be not just misogynistic but almost completely misanthropic, even to members of his own family. It’s no wonder that Vanessa, his recently-departed girlfriend, dumped him like all of the others.

I’m not sure that’s what writer/actor Brent Baird was going for, but that’s what I got. He’s effective at switching between his characters by giving each distinctive mannerisms and personalities, but seen through Trevor’s offended eyes they’re so broadly stereotyped that they’re unbelievable. There are funny parts to be sure, and a moment near the end where Trevor seems to actually, finally, sense that someone else had an existence worthy of his one-person world, but by that time I couldn’t find it in my heart to be at all sympathetic to his loss.

Please don’t take the program’s claim that this play is a “poignant look at the male psyche” to mean that it’s a look into all male minds. I don’t doubt there are people like Trevor Sullivan out there, but hopefully they’re few and far between. –Peter Janes

I Only See Shadows

You will be amazed…

I went to this play with very little enthusiasm in my pocket, I came out of it absolutely amazed. After the show, I had to go and speak to one of the actors as I did have some questions about the play that I absolutely had to have answered, and you will surely feel the same.

We are often unable to gain insight into other ways of living as our ways are often limited to simply that, our ways. This play will at least for one hour surely give you insight into one way of life you may otherwise have not had the chance to encounter, or really imagine — the way of life in the shadows.

This ticket will not only grant you admittance to the theatre, it will grant you an open door to very real life around us that we rarely can be part of. The highlight of the show is the actors, who will surely draw you into the play you more then the plot itself, and they are the reason this show is a must see. You will have plenty to take home to reflect upon, guaranteed. –bezvezeonako

Love Shack

Love Shack, baby, Love Shack

Clocking in at 35 minutes, Love Shack is a perfect theatrical “amuse-bouche.” Nothing too deep; no death, abuse or assorted other mayhem; just a fun little show with zippy, clever dialogue.

(“Cockroach on the mattress
Cockroach on the highway
Cockroach on the front porch
Cockroach on the hallway…”)

Martha Zimmerman and Chris Bancroft give wonderfully entertaining performances as a couple sneaking away to a tacky little motel, “lookin’ for the love getaway.” The playwright, Mike Wilmot, proves himself to be far more than simply a mellifluous voice, although that voice makes a guest appearance in his show. (“Bang bang on the door…”)

The only downside I can see to this show is that you may find the lyrics of that B-52’s song stuck in your head. (“So hurry up and bring your jukebox money…”) –Laurie Bursch

Magical Mystery Tour Rockumentary

Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles are back and sounding better than ever! Yuri George Jan Pool’s incredible likeness to Paul McCartney will have you sitting in your chair eyes closed remembering when you first heard the title song to this explosive show. Without missing a beat Yuri is ready at the piano to take you on a trip with the ever magical The Fool on the Hill. This show rocks on with other band members; Jason Mercer, Darryl Lahteenmaa, Will Armstrong taking over on lead vocals with songs such as, I am the Walrus (my personal favourite) Strawberry Fields Forever to name a couple. All of the songs are so true to the original recordings, along with Yuri’s fabulous band and the very strong U.W.O musicians accompanying the band so beautifully (masterful string section) lets us inside the studio to when The Beatles were recording this masterpiece. Get there early as this show will easily sell out (note to performers; be sure to hit Magical Mystery Tour Rockumentary’s line ups with flyers of your own shows…everybody fringing will put this at the top of their must see list). –uhu

[beatle2 clarified: Will Armstrong was the drummer, “Ringo” in this production, not one of the lead vocalists. Jason Mercer was in the role of “John,” Dylan Lauzon “George,” Darryl Lahteenma “George Martin,” and of course, Yuri as “Paul.”]

Naughty Little Children

The kids are alright

Never having been in daycare, I didn’t have much context for th… oh, who am I kidding?

It’s a little rough around the edges, but Naughty Little Children definitely has its moments. The first comes well before the performance even starts, and gives a hint of the amount of audience participation to follow.

Chelsea Manders plays a new caregiver who doesn’t quite understand the concepts of daycare, childrens [sic], or age-appropriate language. She’s streetwise and bubbly—not quite ditzy, but close—and will evoke thoughts in those of a certain age of Miss Fran crossed with one of Charlie’s Angels.

The show hinges on Manders’ interaction with the audience: there’s a lot of it, which means it’s going to vary wildly from performance to performance. The audience I saw it with was on the quiet side (not a criticism; I was one of the quiet ones) which meant more work for her, and she handled it nicely. She also recovered well when one of the more active participants turned a gag around on her.

Music of varying naughtiness levels is interspersed throughout the production. All of the songs are quite clever, although some of the lyrics went by too quickly for my not-yet-that-aged brain to process.

Certain of the non-musical segments play a bit like Short Attention Span Theatre. The Comedy Rule of Three is fine, but I subscribe to the Letterman School: if a joke doesn’t get a reaction the first time, beat it into the ground until it does. Which isn’t to suggest that Chelsea’s jokes (or Dave’s) aren’t funny—they are!—but I think it can take a bit of time to warm up to each gag.

I’d like to see this show again in several months, as I think it’s got a lot of potential it’s not quite living up to yet. With the perfect audience I’m sure it would play near flawlessly today. –Peter Janes

Never Swim Alone

Race you to the point!

I heard a story at last year’s Brickendens about a Toronto director who scoffed at the idea that this city had enough theatre to warrant theatre awards. Someone find him and send him to this show.

Featuring three of London’s best actors, Never Swim Alone is a riveting 60 minutes. Dressed almost identically, Justin Peter Quesnelle and Tyler Parr face off in front of their judge and jury, a young woman in a blue bathing suit. The two men are both strong in roles that run the gamut from almost good-natured teasing to fisticuffs, the kind of physical acting at which Parr excels. While in the least showy role, Meaghan Chenosky holds her own against these two, her mostly quieter presence radiating from the back of the stage. (Frankly, I thought that acting like she wasn’t freezing in the cryogenics experiment that the McManus was last night was an outstanding achievement.)

Funny, thought-provoking, heart-breaking, this is the show to see if you want to find out what this city offers in terms of talent. –Laurie Bursch

Panda’s Dream

From the powerful opening number that started out ever so softly with the beautiful Helen Hong demonstrating both her incredible flexibility and core strength, perched so delicately up stage centre for all the audience to see I knew we were in for an incredible show. From there the remaining cast of dancers joined in and all of the sudden an explosion of colours, charm, and intricate choreography filled the entire stage. A fusion of bright texture, and beautiful smiles from the dancers made you sit up in your chair to keep an eye out for what or who was to appear next. The continuous moving soundtrack that was set at the perfect volume, complimented the dancers on stage while keeping you abreast of the story line, always maintaining your attention while the lights were dimming to prepare for the next scene. Helen, alone on stage filled the entire space as if the chorus of 30 plus dancers were behind her, you couldn’t help but feel her energy. There was a lot of people at this show and thankfully so as this show deserves an audience. Be sure to catch one of their final three performances this week. –uhu

Preparation Hex

Spellbinding storytelling

There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This is one of them.

You know that guy who says, “I got this hilarious story to tell you,” and he tells you, and you can see how it could be hilarious, but it isn’t, at least not the way he tells it? That is NOT Bob Brader.

In Preparation Hex, Brader takes the story of his hemorrhoids and weaves it into storytelling gold. Along the way we learn about some of the women in his life – Lisa, Harriet and Suzanne, among others (yes, this man is a cautionary tale about why you shouldn’t date actors) (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) – lucky clothing, dragon’s blood, stuffed animals, Disneyland and the MGM Studio Tour, the COMT Incident, and a whole raft of other things that I was laughing too hard to keep track of. And he uses a slide projector (yippee for great old technology!) to provide visual aids for his story.

Sometimes the best stories are all in the telling, and Brader sure knows how to tell ’em. Don’t miss this alchemist of the anecdote! –Laurie Bursch

See Bob Run

See Lydia Stun

The title of this review (stolen from fellow opening-weekend reviewer LittleBird) says it all.

Lydia Zadel, as Bob—Roberta—Bob, grabs the audience’s attention from the first second of See Bob Run and doesn’t let go.

Daniel MacIvor’s plays have a vocabulary all their own, and it’s interesting to see that it was present even in an early work like this. There are some references I thought unique to Never Swim Alone (also playing at the Fringe, and also fantastic) that appear here, I guess for the first time. Rather than diminishing either play, they give a sense of something approaching continuity; there’s world-building going on here, and it’s something I’ve seen in Jayson McDonald’s work too. Yes, I did just equate the two gentlemen.

But it’s the ladies that stand out in this production. I somehow managed to miss most of Caitlin Murphy’s work while she lived in town, so between last year’s Meconium/Montreal (which she wrote and performed) and Bob (which she’s directed) I really feel like I’m lacking a big part of recent London theatre history. Lydia, on the other hand, has been a favourite since her 2005 London Fringe production The Body, and I’m hard-pressed to choose between that performance and this one.

In guiding the opening-weekend reviewers I cautioned them that there’s good and bad to be found in any production. There are nits to be picked (wait, that’s something from Jeff Culbert’s great archy and mehitabel, isn’t it?) but finding anything bad here is just about impossible. Bob is just plain old excellent theatre. –Peter Janes

Skirts in a Box

Review in a Box

Right up front, I need to state that I’m not the target audience for this play. For one thing, I’ve never been a teenaged girl.

That said, the visual concept is a clever one: each actor plays multiple roles, with each character distinguished only by the skirt she wears, without a single offstage costume change. Instead, the ingeniously-designed costumes allow the three actors to switch roles almost effortlessly, with nothing more than a simple rotation or quiet Velcro rip. That’s an absolute necessity, as they change roles so often (occasionally in mid-step) that it would be impossible to do otherwise. As director Shannon Scott highlighted to strong applause at the performance I attended, kudos goes to the costume designer (who isn’t specifically called out in the program; can someone in or related to the show please post her name here?).

The set is also interesting: it’s a literal interpretation of the “box” of the title, which is alternately constructed and deconstructed during the play to create the settings, including a classroom and a playground jungle gym.

The story hinges on Brooke, the leader of a clique of the aforementioned girls. Her ability to get them to do her bidding, no matter how strongly they protest, seems almost preternatural; perhaps her “Rebel” skirt contains some sort of mind-control device. Again, not being a teenaged girl, I can’t say how much of this is true to life and how much is a conceit of the script, but it seems unrealistic. The individual actions address concerns such as body image, alcoholism and death; they’re presented and resolved with a bit of a heavy hand, but I get the feeling that’s sort of the point. –Peter Janes

[The costume designer is Angela Morgan. Forum user lscott posted another review that addresses the show with context I couldn’t provide. Much appreciated!]

So Many Boo-Boos: Confessions of a Victim

A raw and moving show

One of the many reasons I love theatre is that it allows me to see other lives almost from the inside. So Many Boo-Boos begins with Dan Ebbs showing us a horrific moment in his adolescence – an event that many of us can’t even begin to understand.

And then he takes us from there to see the rest of his life, how his assault shaped who he’s become. With humour, strength, song, and – why not? – a game show, Ebbs shares the contents of his “boo-boo box.” I laughed, I cried, I learned the meaning of “trichotillomania.”

So Many Boo-Boos opens with physical nakedness, and continues with emotional nakedness. While not always easy to watch, it’s brave and honest and real – what good theatre is all about.

Dan, thank you for allowing me to see your life. –Laurie Bursch

Some of These Days

Carol Fox Prescott with her great panache brings to life the story of Sophie Tucker and her on going tenacity to maintain “family ties and Jewish roots while she trail blazes her way into the world as a major star in American show business.” Carol can sing and engages the audience with her enchanting delivery of a young Sophie right up to a very active 81 year old. Her seamless transition of Sophie’s intricate lives keeps the audience wanting to hear more of this inspirational performer. One song in particular left this reviewer so captivated by her sheer grace as she covered the stage so beautifully making it feel as if you were reliving one of Sophie’s live shows. Miles Mandewelle is very adept at playing the piano while feeding off of Carol’s rich stage presence, giving us great insight as to how Sophie presumably engaged with musicians while on stage. –uhu

Spilt Milk in, “We Aim to Please!”

Hilarious from the very first sketch! These performers not only came prepared with a slick, polished show, infusing their own renditions of “history’s most crucial, but least documented adventures down memory lane” had the audience laughing out loud the entire show. Sam Bantock, Chris Mamo, Dan Potter, Andrew Tribe and Sarah Wenn hit their marks in every sketch they were in. The delightful song numbers will have you humming in your chair perhaps making up your own lyrics or singing along with Split Milk’s as they were ever so poetic. These guys and gal left nothing to the imagination incorporating excellent costume changes (you’ll have to see this show for the best costume at the fringe this year) along with perfectly mixed music during scene transitions. They’ve thought of everything for their debut performance as a sketch comedy group (great house music while the audience was coming in, don’t be afraid to turn up the volume guys). Sarah’s comedic timing shouldn’t be missed. She adds the perfect female contrast to the very strong male contingency in the group, but you can’t forget any of her performances. This being Spilt Milk’s first Fringe is incredible as they looked like seasoned Fringe performers on stage. Go see this show! –uhu


Gritty drama with a mystery

Spitfire is a gritty tableau that brings to life two hard living men who re-unite to remember surviving a plane crash.

Strong emotions play out as the history of the Spitfire unfolds. The performances were commanding and the dialog very real.

Stories repeated and reinterpreted as the plot builds toward its crisis. The mystery of the Spitfire is complex and has to be followed closely as the truth is sifted out by layers. If you are alert for clues the pieces all fall into place. Another pint and I might have gotten lost.

I recommend Spitfire for mature Fringers ready for a hard bitten drama with a bit of puzzle solving mixed in. –Don Hey

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

This play was a wonderful adaptation of the original classic novel by Thomas Hardy. I found the pace of the show to be a bit slow. As an audience member I felt sluggish moving along with the plot. The general wash of lighting took away from the intimacy of several scenes which otherwise would have been very moving and endearing. The scene changes lacked energy. On the whole due to the placid pace the feel at the end of the show was a little anticlimactic. As a counter point, the actors gave a good account of themselves. Especially Hanna Drew, who shines throughout the show. It is easy to get drawn into her passion and empathize with the hardships her character faces. –JeanWilliams

The Banshee’s New Wig

After reading the director’s message found in the program adjacent to his Criss Angel-esque self portrait, I prepared my self for what I thought was going to be a very rocking show, instead it lost me after the first song. This show at times looked unrehearsed. It seemed as if the actors didn’t know their lines and on top of that they had to sing which they didn’t do very well either. Hearing the crew whispering back stage was very distracting along with several black out transitions that took so long you almost started to wonder if the show was over. Although a couple of the actors held their own, the chorus wasn’t worth the wait for the one good song which came near the end of the show. Heather May is a standout in this other wise mediocre cast. Accents are always tricky no matter what your show; this cast proved once again that spending time with an actual dialect coach would have helped tremendously. Lastly, lighting cues at the end of the show would have been helpful to signify its end versus having the audience sitting their in bewilderment wondering if the show was over, thankfully it was. –uhu

The Barker’s Spiel

Duthie’s barker promises “a parcel of memorable moments,” and Duthie delivers. To paraphrase the old saying: a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer… squirted at your psyche. And one of those quintessential Fringe moments: a man in his underwear, singing in German.

[in reference to this review:] Thanks, Thomas. You said everything I would have said. (Except more eloquently.) –Laurie Bursch

The C*ckwhisperer — A Love Story

The C*ckwhisperer — A Love Story… in Progress

Collette Kendall has taken off the wig to reveal herself. But perhaps she’s done so a bit too abruptly.

The C*ckwhisperer, Kendall’s new non-Tippi Seagram show, is a work in progress – she’s currently workshopping this show. Like a majority of one-person shows, this one is autobiographical, and Kendall has some very funny stories. (It’s gonna take some time before I will look at a piece of gum without giggling.) But her story takes a very dark turn partway through the show, and I’m not sure that we were ready for that. Her story is important, and sadly, not all that unusual, but the turn is unexpected, and not everyone made it without a screech of tires.

Kendall seems to be aiming for Sandra Shamas territory, and that’s a good thing. But she’s not quite there yet. She’s looking for audience feedback to refine her show, and I look forward to seeing it again as it evolves.

Tippi was a scream, but it’s wonderful to meet Collette. And I’m glad you finally got your disco ball! –Laurie Bursch

The Impresario

Musical perfection; light on comedy

The moments when these five professionals perform music are perfection. Curiously, but not surprisingly, there is no director credit. That is the one element that could turn this production from pleasant to outstanding. The laughs eventually arrive but more of them are needed, especially in the first half. Robertson and Grambo certainly have the potential to make a great comedy pair. Sonja Gustafson, Taylor Robertson and Morgan Jones sang wonderfully and when the sh*t hit the fan in the plot line their interplay was delightful. Diva Lounge Productions’ version of The Impresario has great potential. Their musical talent alone made the trip down to the Wolf Performance Hall worth the visit. –Donald D’Haene

The Magician Reverend Nuge

True magic

It didn’t make the papers here at the time, but twenty years from now Tommy Nugent died.

If Alison Wearing’s Giving Into Light is a show about love, Tommy Nugent’s is about truth. That’s especially ironic given that he’s a self-admitted bullshitter whose business is (at least partly) fooling people by doing magic tricks.

A friend from university used to try out his new card magic tricks on me, so I got pretty good at spotting subtle technical flaws. Through a fluke of seating I was chosen to see one of Tommy’s tricks first-hand and close up, and in my opinion he’s awfully good.

But as good as the magic is, the reason to see the show is his brutally honest look back at his life. Ironies abound, as do quiet, introspective moments. Always punctuated by humour, his flashes of life nevertheless provide a depth I was surprised to get from a “magic show”.

Be careful crossing the street. And keep an ear open for wind chimes.

Highly recommended. –Peter Janes

The One Man Show

For the most part I found this show entertaining. The first few sketches were definitely the best and had the best pace. A couple of sketches mid way through and near the end of the show did drag on as well there seemed to be a lot of shouting from the actors during these sketches which made it that much more difficult to enjoy or understand what they were saying. Having seen Good Game before coupled with Craig and Nick’s sketch comedy experience from the past couple of years I expected a much tighter show. Instead several transitions took a very long time along with what seemed like missed lighting cues. Sketch comedy with four people can be done well if all of the actors are on their game, tonight Good Game didn’t bring their best. –uhu

The Stories of César Chávez

Sí, se puede

I’m not sure why, but when I read the title “The Stories of César Chávez” I immediately replaced the main character in my mind with Che Guevara.

That’s not entirely misguided: they were born only a year apart, and both read extensively when they were younger, which contributed to the revolutions that they both led (although Chávez’ was much less bloody). But it’s not right either.

Fred Blanco’s play, researched in part through conversations with Chávez’ “inner circle” (including his wife and bodyguard), set me straight.

Invoking a number of characters speaking in two languages, Blanco provides a look at the atmosphere of post-World War II United States that eventually prompted Chávez to found the National Farm Workers Association.

Fred Blanco himself is excellent, from his early emulation of the classic zoot suit pose—literally “laid back”—to his ability to communicate in Spanish to the extent that I felt I actually spoke the language. I lost a bit of the thread of the story early on, but recovered quickly enough that I’m willing to accept it as my failing rather than his or his script’s.

The Stories of César Chávez is an interesting history of events I previously had no knowledge of, and a timely play given the relatively recent development of “fair trade” programs, the previous U.S. administration’s focus on illegal immigration, and the invocation of Chávez’ slogan “Sí, se puede” during the 2008 campaign: “Yes, we can.” –Peter Janes


Titania: My new favourite fairy

I have tried to see shows this Fringe which must fall into one, but hopefully some that fulfill a second, criteria. They must be a local theatre company production but I sometimes seek out shows that are not the usual object of much media attention. With Titania I hit a bull’s eye.

Right from the starting gate, the wonderful projection of the two actors who played brothers, Dan Roberson and Jake Stockwell, impressed me. I loved Stockwell’s portrayal of a free spirit which bounced well off Roberson’s stiff, straight and narrow portrayal.

I won’t give away any plot line but I will say that the spirit of whimsy and fantasy were wonderfully played out and I bought it hook, line and sinker. I want a Tantania, as played by the delightful Shelley Levi, in my life.

I loved every minute of it!

Of the shows I’ve seen at Fringe so far, this is my favourite, and I’ll bet I’ll be a circle of one on this front, my vote for bravest. –Donald D’Haene

TransCanada ’69

No breakdowns on this highway

TransCanada ’69 was not entirely what I expected. For those of you wanting storytelling along with the soundtrack, perhaps you’d be better served by another show. However, that said…

…Colin Godbout is an amazingly talented musician, and had his audience in the palm of his hand, at points even getting the usually staid London audience to sing along. Watching him take songs strongly associated with other artists, and make them so entirely his own, gave me new appreciation for the music. And witnessing Godbout’s mastery of his guitar was a wonderful way to spend an hour.

This is the perfect show for anyone with a love of music, Canadian or otherwise. –Laurie Bursch

Trashcan Duet

Just another love story, not!

Stella may recite beat poetry, however there is very little of beat in her character, she hides in every single girl. Now Billy has an ordinary name, yet he definitively is an extraordinary man. He takes this love story from real to almost fairy tale like, and he shines also through every single man.
Romantic yes, comic not quite. Everything but a typical love story. Boy and girl stripped down to who they simply are, very unconventional and completely to the bare core of existence.

Bold, spaceless poetry wandered around the room, most correctly used in delivery of that which otherwise can not be expressed with a gesture of physical movement of an actor, any sort of other media or display, or simply anything else for that fact. I have great trouble memorizing anything however some of the lines just simply remained in my mind, what more can I add? Overacting of female/male stereotype is validly used to heighten and at the same time humanise the drama. The acting is exceptional: Stella and Billy took me in their heart’s pains and pleasures, almost forgot they were acting! –bezvezeonako


Vested interest

Although I saw this show on Saturday evening, it’s taken this long to come to any sort of conclusion about it… and it’s not so much a conclusion as a need to meet a deadline (the opening-weekend reviews have to be posted by tomorrow morning).

The first half of the play is a relatively light, entertaining look at the beginning of a relationship and how the participants change over time. Having two actors play each role isn’t unique, but it’s certainly unusual, and used to good effect; the funny, cutting dialogue coming from different quarters generated a lot of laughs.

The second half is… different. Good different, mind you. At first I thought it was simply going to be an acting exercise and thus not very interesting, but then I started to see what playwright Dan Grass was doing and it suddenly added new depth to what had come before.

With all due respect to Nora Connidis Boydell and Bryan Tompkins, I found my attention regularly drawn across the stage to Julia Webb’s reactions to their characters. (I discovered later that my viewing companion had the same experience.) That’s not a slight in the least, just an indication of Ms Webb’s stage presence.

I did find parts of the play repetitious, which is rather ironic—see it and you’ll understand. I occasionally found it difficult to follow the thread of conversations, but some of that may be attributable to lack of sleep. And while it allows for a highly emotional scene between Dan Grass and Julia Webb, the event at the core feels like it’s there because you need to have an event like that.

So with all that being said, what’s my final opinion of VEST? It’s definitely thought-provoking. –Peter Janes

Voices from the Garden: The Diaries of Adam and Eve

A Voice from the audience

Voices from the Garden: The Diaries of Adam and Eve was adapted by Helen E. Patterson from the works of Mark Twain. Though the two young performers are giving their best, especially the wonderfully named Colt Forgrave, they are unfortunately still too unseasoned to carry the weight of the script.

Patterson has chosen great source material for her show. Sadly, more than anything, this show makes me want to read Twain’s original work. –Laurie Bursch


Wanderlust wonderment

Without using impressions, accents, physical imitations, or even, apparently, a script, Martin Dockery manages to tell a series of long anecdotes from his trip to West Africa that make you feel as if you’ve been there yourself.

Wanderlust begins on a road in the Sahara desert just outside Timbuktu. Before it ends there are encounters with Megan and Julie, a Belgian couple, a juicy mango, an African prince, a chimpanzee, a miracle of technology, and a man and his three wives. And a chance meeting between Jesus and Buddha on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean.

Dockery evokes all of these characters and items through little more than description. But what description it is! By simply recounting his adventures, he makes a personal connection that’s engaging from his first word, and he hardly lets up for more than a few seconds at a time during the hour-long performance. He tells few complete stories: moments are what it’s all about, and are what the audience experiences. There are tantalizing details left hanging as he moves from place to place and moment to moment, but after all, isn’t that how life works?

I’ll leave it to you to determine whether Martin Dockery found the personal epiphany he sought in Africa, or if he found, and shared, something much more important than that. –Peter Janes

Weaverville Waltz

Waltzing back to Weaverville

This is the return of Randy Rutherford’s first of now five autobiographical shows. If you’ve seen him before, you’ve already circled his show in your list of “must-sees” for this year’s Fringe. If not, you should.

Rutherford delivers theatre at its most stripped down. One man, one chair… and the town of Weaverville; population, 2003. Lorraine-Jane, with her Betty Grable eyes; Velveeta-loving Lou, beautiful Cheryl in her white cheerleader’s outfit; Rick, the menacing, if oddly damp, bulldog; the Legend; and Randy, our very-human hero.

One man, one chair… and magic. –Laurie Bursch