London Fringe Festival 2014
As we’ve done for the last several years, Theatre in London will have a team of volunteers reviewing every show in the 15th London Fringe Festival over the opening weekend. Each review will initially be posted to the Fringe website, and they’ll all be archived here after the festival ends. Keep an eye on @theatreinlondon and the #ldnfringe hashtag on social media.
Academia Nuts is a well-acted piece about sexuality and academia that unfortunately falters thanks to a script too weak to stand.
Elements of the show were appreciable. It was good to see programs printed in Braille and diversity among cast members. The performances were good, or as convincing as they could be under the weight of the script’s ham-fisted, directionless bickering and banter. It was the script in general where this piece really did not work: the constant inconsistencies made too little sense even for farce, the serious moments bordered on the ridiculous, and the ridiculous moments were seriously annoying. There were glimmers of interest, such as a brief debate over the merits of the humanities versus the sciences, but these were bogged down by the implausibility and pointlessness of most of the other moments.
It’s a show worth seeing if you want to support some solid performers but otherwise this is a script you won’t be sorry to skip out on.
The After Year
Not the Apocalypse I was Expecting
So there I am with my satchel, creeping unwillingly towards another apocalypse. “Really,” I think, “How many ways can the world end? And are there still any new morals to be learned from some novel way?”
I’d settled in, whining quietly to myself, when after a few minutes unexpected interest began stirring. “Hmmm, these people are good. This is a very solid and balanced cast. Not a weak performer in sight. And the pacing is very engaging. Whoa! This fight choreography is cleanly thought out and really well executed. Cool!”
My “Oh dear, not again” attitude was evaporating, if for no other reason than the obvious skill and clarity that the company brings to this production. With ears and eyes opened, I was being reeled in. By the curtain call, I had a big smile—I’d just been taken on a ride through a well-crafted tale that I was even further surprised to find out wasn’t an adaptation of some classic science fiction short story but was the original work of company members.
Behold The After Year.
Ann With An “E” — An Anne of Green Gables Parody
Being woefully undereducated in the world of Green Gables, I was a bit worried going into this show that much of the references would fly over my head. While I probably did miss some of the humour, I found this show accessible for varying levels of Anne knowledge.
Ann With An E is a comedy that, fitting with the company name, regularly breaks the fourth wall, presenting a show as much about Anne of Green Gables as the story of making an abridged theatre adaptation of the classic tale. Early in the show I found the candid conversation with the audience and the injection of the actors themselves as characters in the show a bit jolting, but it got more natural as the show went on and provided some chuckles as the lives of the actors co-mingled with the story of the characters.
With humour that will be appreciated by both old and young, this is a fun show that is packed with Canadiana and pop culture references. I would recommend this show to fans of Anne and casual theatregoers interested in meta texts with a penchant for silliness in the vein of Monty Python.
This choose-your-own-adventure sex comedy provides a predictably goofy and fun “bite” of absurdity, if not offering much to chew on beyond that.
The performers were well-suited to their roles and comfortable on stage throughout the show’s ridiculousness. The choose-your-own-adventure shtick kept the audience engaged through what was a pretty thin plot. The show stumbled a little with actors playing multiple roles, as character changes could be awkward, and there was some forced audience participation that was bordering on the cringe-worthy.
Overall, though, BITE is a fun experience with some good moments, particularly worth seeing for those interested in the unique choose-your-own-adventure experience.
Bizarro Obscure starts off with charm and two actresses with great voices; the fact that an accordion is used in the show adds an extra cool factor. The play is ostensibly the tale of a quest to save the imagination and unique identity of a energetic and imagination-rich ten-year-old boy. Over the next hour these two actors use their clever physical theatre skills to tell the tale and create settings of imagination all wrapped up in a quest. So this is good right?
The problem with the show is that it doesn’t hang together despite the talents of Sydney Hayduk and Christy Taronno. Theatre needs a coherent structure, a point of friction, and a strong through line. This play has the friction but the through line and coherent structure? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great moments in this play and I especially loved the Russian(?) DJ and how “letters” were read. But in the end the play doesn’t hang together.
So should you see it? Sure you should. The Fringe is a festival of new work, this is a new work, and as I said these two actors have some great scenes. So go in with your eyes wide open, enjoy the work of Christy and Sydney and their oddball tale. But don’t expect a complete play that hangs together.
Victoria Murdoch tells us a tale of southwest Ontario and the mad times, mad money, and mad violence of the effects of prohibition in Ontario. She starts out with the tale of Bessie Starkman, a mother of two whose heart gets caught by a charming bootlegger. Throughout the play we travel with Bessie until she has means and money but loses the “strong man” whom she can’t stop being drawn to.
There is no doubt that Victoria Murdoch is a strong actor and a thoughtful playwright but the play could bear with some examination on the part of her director, Susan Wilby. We never see the fevered heat attraction she states for “Rocco”, nor the compulsion that drives her to choose to leave her two children and her husband. Victoria plays the main character as tightly controlled and almost staid and this does not, to use the parlance of the time, jive. With the mad impulses for abandon and excess that prohibition brought and which the main character is obviously attracted to, we need to see the attraction to “strong men” the character says she is attracted to. So tempo and the actor’s intention need some cleaning up.
The play itself is strong and the writing is spot on in its use of the vernacular of the time, and its structure and dialogue is great. The confrontation scene near the end is brilliantly played by this thoughtful artist and it drives the show toward an all-too-common, all-too-sad ending in these stories.
If this story is about a (very smart and capable) moth being drawn too close to the flame, then we need to see the moth flutter around that flame before the final plunge. In the end this play will get stronger and stronger the more it is performed, and I am certain that at the end of its Fringe tour it will be a very strong and welcome piece of original Canadian theatre. But for now we need to see the tempo increase and the moth flutter. Go see this play at least twice. I know I will.
There is a group of actors which travels the entire length and breadth of North America doing the Fringe circuit. From Fresno in California, to Orlando in Florida, to Ottawa, to Winnipeg, to Edmonton, and to London. It is an act of bravery, because these thespians take their original plays and test them in the toughest circumstances possible: in front of an audience. So it is with Bromance, the tale of two veteran Fringe performers who have sometimes failed and sometimes succeeded.
The thing about Bromance is that I understand exactly what they’ve gone through, from the horrible lows to the huge highs. The story of Bromance is the story of two self-described B-list Fringe performers who have come together to create an A-list show. To finally achieve what they had never done individually: Fringe tour stardom.
There were some great jokes and some funny bits, but sadly the show blew right by what one of the performers, Tommy “The Reverend” Nugent, was grappling with from the top: giving up on being an actor on the Fringe tour. He had had enough of barely scraping by, playing to audiences of 10 people, and was contemplating becoming a truck driver when he was talked into trying it one more time by his friend and fellow actor Kurt Fitzpatrick.
We’re greeted at the top of the show with a parody of the scene from Say Anything… where John Cusack is standing outside Lili Taylor’s bedroom playing Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes from a boom box. In the case of these two, it’s “Fitzpatrick” holding a boom box, playing In Your Eyes outside of Tommy Nuge’s window, trying to convince him to do a show with him. Funny? Yes. But then it goes from there to a series of inside jokes that only their fellow Fringe performers would understand, to some PowerPoint fun, and a clunky reference to Breaking Bad.
We end up stumbling to the end with a clever rap about London and a send-up of a critic they both had a hard time with in Orlando. What we miss along the way is the real story of what it’s like to be an actor. What it’s like to try to create a show from an idea and a tiny amount of cash. What it’s like to put your heart and soul into something to have five people come and see it. That is the show this could have and should have been.
Sure, keep the jokes and even the rap if you want but these two sympathetic actors missed a golden opportunity. Rather than going for the quick one-liner laughs and inside Fringe performer jokes, they could have kept some of the comedy and had an honest show about how hard it is to be unappreciated in an art that you love. So Tommy and Kurt, go away and rewrite this show, because this reviewer thinks this is a story worth telling.
For the rest of you reading this, the question is should you see this show? Well, the Fringe is the place where you go see shows that are rough, not quite ready, or sometimes brilliant. It’s where new theatre is created and sometimes the worst shows are taken away and come back as gems.
Sure this show is at times rough and incomplete, transitions from section to section are wobbly, and ultimately these two actors are talking at us rather than letting us in to share their own very important story. So if you see the show, great, but buy them a beer, listen to their stories about what it’s like to be a Fringe circuit actor and show creator, and encourage them to go back and do a rewrite for next year. I for one hope it will come back again as a gem.
Oh, and kudos to Megan Schroder for her rocking rendition of Son of a Preacher Man at the top of the show.
Bromance is an entertaining hour of Fringe circuit and London, Ontario in-jokes and jabs carried by some engaging and fun performers. Although elements of the show, particularly the pop culture references/vignettes, were a little clunky, the audience adored Fitzpatrick & Nuge’s antics through and through, laughing and clapping from beginning to end (though both Mel Sheehan and, apparently, Santa Claus were in the audience, so there’s that). If you’re looking for an enjoyably meta comedy show about the Fringe circuit experience, with some endearing performances by Fringe veterans (“B-list” or otherwise!) Bromance is definitely for you.
Choose, But Choose Wisely
London Does Have History
First, a disclaimer: I’m one of those who loves historical drama that is tight on the facts and light on concocted romance and conspiracy. So Choose, But Choose Wisely is my cup of tea whereas it might not be for those of another persuasion.
The strongest point of this show is the dialogue. Unlike many scripts that go lean on the fiction, this one avoids dry historical exposition by baking the facts into a relevant story leavened by wit. This approach is further enhanced by the clarity of the characters, both in how they are drawn by the playwright and how they are brought to life by the cast.
Unfortunately, neither the script as a whole nor this production of it has been sufficiently prepared to give a truly satisfying experience to the playgoer. And I’d venture to say that the traditional stage would be one of the less effective media for this story. Tightened up, it’d make a great half-hour radio drama. A costumed reading with projections and sound that fully engage the audience would have me first in line for a ticket.
There are gems that glimmer in this production, but they need to be sifted, refined and mounted in the right setting for Choose, But Choose Wisely to achieve its potential.
Dynamic, funny and inspiring, this endearing coming-of-age story is an absolute must-see that received the first, and seriously well-deserved, standing ovation of my Fringe-going experience this year.
Sharing the story through spoken word poetry, snappy dialogue and movement and dance, Concrete Kid‘s performers were pitch-perfect, infectious with energy and effortlessly convincing as the sometimes multiple characters they played. The script was original and on-point, moving adeptly from powerful poetry to deft wit and back again and coming to a head with a truly brilliant finale. A compelling snapshot of a moment in a young person’s life, Concrete Kid perfectly captures the terrors and possibilities, the energy and anxiety, of youth, and is truly worth seeing for absolutely anyone who is, has been or will be a teenager.
I can’t recommend it enough.
Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl
Charming, Playful and Endearing
Charming and playful, Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl is a one-woman journey of self-discovery and transformation which comes to an endearing conclusion. Music and humour are used to take the audience behind the counter of a Toronto coffee shop with barista Joanie Little. Actress and writer Rebecca Perry’s delivery is spot on, leading you to the assumption that this story is quasi-autobiographical. Perry has an incredible singing voice, belting out tunes from Rufus Wainwright to The Head and the Heart. After hearing her confessions you just might view your next barista through more sympathetic eyes, and be curious as to what their own personal story is—and wonder if they can sing quite like that.
The Deception Hour
The classic magic show is something that everyone loves, and Keith Brown’s show is no exception. A mix of brilliant magic, mental gymnastics, and plain old astonishing feats, it’s a show well worth seeing. Mix that with a genuine warmth toward the audience, a respect for the people he pulls into his performance, and a sprinkle of a hometown boy doing something he loves, and you have an entertaining show.
You can tell from the first moment that Keith loves his work and loves magic. In a typical review I would talk about the plot, the actors, the structure of the play, but I don’t want to do that here. Friends, magic is about mystery, and I don’t want to ruin the mystery. Suffice it to say that Keith Brown is charming, the magic is gob-smackingly clever, and the performance is filled with moments where you cringe in horror at what he’s doing and moments that make you say “Wow!” Go see The Deception Hour if you love the mystery of magic and you want something that will leave you wondering “how the hell did he do that?” Because I know how he did it: it’s just good old-fashioned magic, and we all need a little more magic in our lives.
A Must-See Magic Show
When done right, a magic show captures the audience’s imagination and draws out a childlike sense of wonder.
Keith Brown’s Deception Hour is definitely magic done right.
The Saturday night performance of this show was packed to the rafters with magic lovers, completely enthralled with every moment, and all left scratching their heads about how exactly Brown pulled off each feat.
With tons of audience participation and a fantastic, confident performance by Brown, this is a Fringe show that has to be at the top of your must-see list.
Deranged Dating is a one-woman stand up routine from award-winning South African performer Shirley Kirchmann. Perpetually single at the age of 35, Shirley takes us on a comedic look at the horrors of dating and her experiences with websites, match makers and bars. While I enjoyed a few of her characters and had a good belly laugh at her more off-the-cuff and edgy jokes, for the most part the show was lost on me. Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve heard most of the jokes and one-liners before. I laughed, but not as hard as some in the audience. I’m lukewarm on this one.
Dream Journey is dominated by discipline and skills wrapped in a satisfying rhythmic flow of mystery, ideas and images. How refreshing it is to see a “young theatre” workshop production developed under the kind of guidance that Original Kids provides. It’s abundantly clear that egos are checked at the door and that the focus is on honing real professional skills and attitudes rather than self-indulgence often fostered by “Let’s Create” or “Be a Star” classes.
I recommend that all other London Fringe performers see this show, either to bring back that moment when they realized how much more powerful the ensemble can be than the group of individuals, or maybe to experience it vicariously—for the first time.
Going into this show I expected a fairly typical Harold and Maude type show about the passion of youth and the wisdom of old age, but what I found was something more charming and complex. Early Retirement is a character drama driven by three strong performances bringing three interesting personalities to life. Funny at times, thoughtful at others, I feel this show does a good job of capturing the messiness of modern love by juxtaposing it against the facts and fictions of a romanticized older time. My only real complaint was an aggressive use of lighting to signify scene changes which, at times, broke up the flow of the drama.
Although it’s not the type of show I’m usually drawn to, I had a good time watching this enduring and funny show and think it’s worth checking out.
This story about science, imagination, and family is an enjoyable experience carried by a strong performer and a worthwhile script.
This is Einstein!‘s first run, in London or anywhere, so it was a little bit rough around the edges on opening night. However, Jack Fry’s multiple characters were well-defined and his jokes hit home with ease. The script balances tales of Einstein’s personal life well with segments about scientific curiosity and the wonders of the universe.
If you’re looking for a historical tale with a modern twist told by a solid performer with a multi-layered script, see Einstein! for sure.
Fancy Brain Show: Poorly Put Together
A show that’s more stand-up routine than one-man show, the Fancy Brain Show definitely offers up some solid laughs delivered by a funny and clever performer. While the show itself is certainly funny, I think it might be better served up at a comedy club than a theatre festival, as the audience really hurt the performance I saw. Without the loud and rowdy crowd of a comedy club, it was difficult to really get into the spirit of the show and resulted in several awkward pauses when people held their laughter because they didn’t want to be the only one in the crowd laughing.
Having said that, I think Shaw’s storytelling abilities are definitely there and would love to see him move away from the “ba-dum-pish” format of a comedy show and move into a truer one-man dramatic (but still humorous) exploration of life, health and happiness. Unfortunately, the joke formula got in the way of the meat of the experience, at times, which left the show feeling a bit unbalanced.
My recommendation is to either bring a bunch of rowdy friends along to make this show a party or wait to catch this funny guy on stage in a comedy club — in the right atmosphere, this guy will leave you in stitches.
Fred Exclamation Point! The Musical
Fred Exclamation Point! The Musical offers the tantalizing prospect of Stephen Sondheim meets Dario Fo—Broadway Musical meets Labour, in a sauce of humour. Such a combination is one of those things that makes a Fringe, well, a Fringe. And makes a Fringe worth going to.
Sadly, Fred is not a dish serving up an innovative fusion of uncommonly-blended flavours, but a clothesline onto which successive loads of laundry are winched out to flap fitfully in an unsteady breeze. Inconsistent pacing and blocking that would do well on the radio do no service to the talent on the stage. Unfortunately (for the most part) the wide range of unreinforced vocal skill on display is often drowned out by the principal accompaniment—an electric piano—pumped at unreasonable volume through the P.A. This is doubly unfortunate as the piano accompaniment is one of the best aspects of the show.
Then again, sometimes this is exactly what a Fringe Festival is about.
Fred A Little Flat
The title of this show made me think it was going to be silly, lighthearted fun. Unfortunately, the combination of unintelligible musical numbers, cartoonish characters and union rights just didn’t strike a chord with me.
It’s possible that there were some technical difficulties with this performance—I caught the second showing—but it was the too-quiet singing that was tough to get past. The lyrics in the first song, which serves to introduce the title character, were virtually impossible to understand, besides the chorus’ repetition of “Fred! Fred! Fred! Fred!” (which is guaranteed to get stuck in your head! Head! Head! Head!).
There are some funny moments in this play—and there’s a top-notch vocal performance by Rebecca Surman—but the show fell a little flat overall for me. However the performances were earnest, and it seemed like the audience had fun.
If you’re really into union rights, silly comedies and combinations of the two, this might be a show you’ll enjoy. If not, you might want to give this one a pass.
Friend of Mine
Friend of Mine is a poignant story about love, culture and colonialism told by a captivating, multi-talented performer.
Vidya Natarajan moves fluidly from character to character and from dialogue to song and dance with the help of a clever and engaging script. Her different characters were well-defined without being over the top—her Kamala was stubborn yet mischievous and her Amy was pompous but vulnerable—and the story was simple and full of moments both funny and moving.
Among all this year’s quirky, frenetic comedies, this more sincere, paced piece is a breath of fresh air for those looking for some good straightforward storytelling.
Getting There: The Ariel Play
A play that really captures the spirit and style of Sylvia Plath, Getting There is a lyrical and insightful exploration into the life of a frustrated young woman who has just committed suicide. With the most complex (and clever) stage and prop use I’ve seen so far this Fringe, this is a professional-calibre show carried by the strong performance of Mackay who brings the captivating prose of writer Derewicz to life.
While the density/concept of the play might not be for everyone—it is definitely a show you need to work a bit to understand—this play has a lot to offer, particularly for fans of spoken word poetry and The Feminine Mystique.
Getting There is a story about femininity in crisis during the 1960s and 1970s told by an excellent performer under solid direction.
Sylvia Plath as inspiration really shines through here, and fans of her work will certainly not be disappointed by this original tribute, with a script that hits all the right notes by being simple, but challenging. The acting was fantastic, convincing through and through, and the direction in particular was clearly well thought out in every way.
Definitely see this if you want to support two talented emerging artists creating something polished, professional and powerful.
God is a Scottish Drag Queen
There are many things you will learn about God at this Fringe entry. Among them: She loves monkeys, music, floral ’80s power suits, and Justin Bieber. Yes, God is a Scottish drag queen and She’s come to tell you that She is plenty pissed off. Hilariously funny from intro to end, this is a must-see for those who aren’t easily offended, and perhaps those who are. Because if we can’t laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at? Nobody and nothing is sacred in this uproarious 60 minutes. From the Pope to Amy Winehouse and Spanx to sweaty farts, God is a must-see for those looking for a good belly laugh and sore cheeks.
Grey Days Preferable
A series of letters between sibling London (Ontario) artists Paul and Mildred Peel form a compelling look at their close relationship. Originally presented as a two-hander at Museum London, Grey Days Preferable swaps the projections of Paul’s actual paintings for clever and surprisingly representative theatrical presentations by two supporting actors. Chris McAuley, despite being slightly miscast as the artist (who died at age 32), portrays Paul as a sympathetic, innately-talented younger brother to Vanessa Woodford’s Mildred, a fine but overlooked artist in her own right who’s supportive of her sibling’s accomplishments. Director Adam Corrigan Holowitz has put his own unique stamp on the story of one of this city’s most famous exports, and it’s one of the highlights of the 2014 Fringe.
A play about Paul Peel, a local artist who died tragically young and was admired in France, by local playwright Jason Rip is a worthy subject and one worth exploring on a number of levels. In the course of the play we learn about the artist, his strong relationship with his sister, his difficult relations with his father, and his love of the French art and French light. What we don’t get is a strong play.
Jason Rip has written the play in a series of letters between Peel and his sister, which forces the play into a repeating format. Director Adam Corrigan Holowitz stages the play with an interesting idea: he sets the stage with a proscenium arch upstage which he uses to create suggestions of Peel’s paintings using two actors. A great idea which is hit or miss in its delivery. The whole play is hit and miss, sadly, and could use, and I strongly encourage, a rewrite and reworking. This is a local play well worth re-examining by the playwright and the director.
The two lead actors in this show sometimes manage to get hit the right notes—especially great is Peel’s death scene—but the cast isn’t up to the play in the end.
Here is the important point about this review, and especially the young director Adam Corrigan Holowitz. Adam has created his own theatre company and has been producing plays for the last 4 years. He is a young artist, much like Peel, learning his craft, and the Fringe is a great place for him to do it. So while I thought this play had issues, it also had tremendous promise, like Corrigan Holowitz. So go see the show, but more importantly keep going to see this young director’s work, because it is important to support and encourage our local talent. And Adam is a talent that we need to support.
Jason Rip is also a local playwright: keep supporting his work. See the play, with all its flaws, because if we don’t then how will our local artists keep developing and creating stronger and stronger work? They won’t. Go see Grey Days Preferable: A Portrait Of Paul Peel.
Moved by Movement
Grey Matter(s) is a contemporary dance production that is one part choreographed, one part improvised, and set to a haunting soundtrack featuring Radiohead, CocoRosie, Medicine and Ben Howard. The lead-in is eerie, plunging the audience into a world of darkness and intense sounds. When the lights come up, dancers are set in small curious scenes across the stage depicting some kind of conflict or anxiety.
When dancing as a group the dancers set an intense and passionate aura that resonates to the audience. When dancing as individuals they effortlessly pull the audience into their respective stories of chaos and uncertainty as they try to find calm and become centered again. The heaviness and eventual lifting is very well illustrated in their movements.
Grey Matter(s) is an impressive production from such a young dance troupe. It is well choreographed, nicely timed and quite cohesive with seamless transitions. If you love music and movement, you will be moved by this production.
Hedda & Louella
This review is going to be extremely short so you can stop reading and just go see this show: it’s great. My only wish is that it was longer, because these two actors, along with the story, could easily have filled two hours.
A historical drama that really captures the golden age of Tinseltown, this is a show about compelling women portrayed by two extremely talented actors. I likely would not have chosen to see this show myself, but I am so glad I did. Take a chance on this one, you won’t be disappointed.
If you want to see the strangest, most endearing show at Fringe this year I cannot recommend High Tea enough. Funny and bizarre with a healthy dose of gentle audience participation, this show is perfect for viewers of all ages.
For the love of king and country, go see this show!
A lovely, silly show
I had expectations of English humour and biting wit going into High Tea. What I got instead was vastly different, but still delightful. James and Jamesy’s performances don’t reflect the sort of comedy I’d expect of Doctor Who or the BBC, but they do exhibit a talent for slapstick and imagination. The two actors have excellent chemistry, and the contrast between them makes the piece exceedingly charming. The show also manages to include multiple occurrences of audience participation without ruining its timing or flow, which is a rare feat among Fringe plays. High Tea isn’t intellectual or self-deprecating, but it does allow its audience to experience the joy and creativity of make believe. That alone makes it worth seeing, especially for parents and children.
High Tea is a brilliant piece of imaginative play guided by the lovable James and Jamesy, who carry the audience through an adventure in physical theatre and make believe that really makes you feel as if you’ve been a part of something magical. James and Jamesy’s performances are a delight to watch, with Jamesy’s lithe noodling about and James amiably tagging along. The story is simple—two friends meet for tea and are swept away in a gradually building swell of mind-bending craziness—but carries complex undertones as the audience is swept away as well into a story that’s really about the value of imagination, the importance of playing together and, ultimately, what it means to be human.
This is an extremely family-friendly show and is particularly a must-see for kiddies and their guardians.
I Hate Bill Pats
This is a show that really gets down to the basics of Fringe theatre — a sparse stage, simple lighting, and a predictable narrative pattern. But the simplicity of the show merely adds to the authenticity of this gutsy, gritty story about one man’s brutal journey through life in Winnipeg. A story that hits you right in the feels, I Hate Bill Pats is an emotional roller coaster with equal parts self deprecating humour and gut wrenching tragedy. Although a bit rough around the edges at times, the flaws of this show only add to its charisma and make it feel more genuine.
You should go see this show. Really, you should. In part because, despite the title, Bill Pats is a loveable (if not sympathetic) guy. But more than that, you should see this show because it does something that all theatre should do but few accomplish — it will affect you, emotionally and intellectually. To me, that is the marker of good theatre and this show is, by definition, good theatre.
Judy: Stonewalled certainly has an interesting premise. Discussing Stonewall through Garland’s story could create a fresh take on the historical event, and at its best, Judy does just that. The music is fantastic, and Natalie Howard-Grant does an exceptional job of showing Garland’s appeal and versatility. At certain points, the writing includes self-deprecating, dark humour that helps to successfully use Garland’s life as a parallel to the struggle of the LGBTQ community. However, the piece fails to maintain this tone. In multiple scenes, the piece becomes heavy-handed instead of poignant, and the moments of compelling self-reflection are lost in the lack of subtlety. Judy is never fully able to live up to its potential, but Garland admirers will enjoy the musical performances and pitch-perfect ambiance.
There are people who have interesting lives that swing through a series of coincidences, all linking together in a grand adventure that ends up finishing in an all-too-human tale of recognition and friendship. Such is the tale of Killer Quack by James Judd. James tell us of a life that starts in show business and drives through dissatisfaction, marked by a tattoo, a side trip to law school, and an obsession where he ends up missing a terrible end by the skin of his teeth.
James is as comfortable on the deck as he is in sharing this madcap story, and he has the innate timing and rhythm to make his show fill us with laughter and at other times give us pause as he shares an honest moment in his strange life. He starts us off in his failure to fail at doing standup, then we catch up with James as he’s finishing law school and lamenting an ugly tattoo he got in an ugly part of his life. The twist comes when he wants to remove that part of of his life.
Fast forward to a laser removal clinic in the late ’90s, when in walks a man who catches James’ breath and therein begins his obsession. During his time with the “doctor” he shares some personal moments in New York after 9/11 and an encounter with his romantic obsession that shakes him badly and makes him stop treatments and end his obsession.
It’s now years later and James has successfully settled down with a partner he loves. He is selling wine around the world when he picks up the newspaper and learns a terrible truth. I’m not going to tell you the rest of the story because you should go and see it. But it’s enough to say that James is a great performer who tells us a tale that takes us on a sometimes hilarious and finally ends in an all-too-human meeting of past and present. James should take some moments to not feel quite so rushed in the play, but we end up with a warm, funny, and touchingly fun show all lightly dusted with the pro comedic snark of someone who knows how to tell a good story.
A series of vignettes based within the confines of women’s restrooms, this is a devilishly funny show put on by three talented performers that is sure to entertain. An up-tempo situational comedy at its core, this show provides clever social commentary, exploring the complexity of relationships and social interaction. The writing is strong and the performances are natural, really drawing the audiences into the playful world.
This show really delivers for fans of Mei, Brown and Adler: it’s exactly what you would expect… and that’s not a bad thing. For those who don’t know these three actors, this is a great opportunity to get acquainted. Just make sure you go early, as this show is already (and rightfully so) drawing crowds.
Maison Des Rêves
A stirring true crime drama about early 1900s serial killer Alexe Popova, Maison Des Reves is a difficult but important show. With descriptions of monstrous violence against women perpetrated by husbands and fathers, this performance is obviously quite heavy, but don’t let the subject matter prevent you from seeing this show.
Gritty, saddening and inspiring, Maison Des Reves is carried by a seasoned veteran of stage and will be enjoyed by anyone interested in historical drama, true crime stories, and justice for victims of domestic violence.
The Mask Messenger
Oh, this is so much of what Fringing is about!
The Mask Messenger is categorized as “Physical Comedy, General”. That’s just a bit like tagging Hamlet with “contains violence and references to madness”. That’s true, but it misses the other 95% of the show. The program bumph goes further and tries to tease out the nature of the show out with “Physical comedy with masks in humorous, poignant and bizarre vignettes”. That has a vague odour of self indulgent scattershot, which is even wider of the target.
This cloak of uncategorizability undoubtedly led to a comment overheard after the showcase: “That mask bit was really good, but can it be sustained for an entire show?” Having now seen the show, I can assure that patron that that comment was a bit like seeing Monty Python’s Silly Walks sketch and wondering if an hour of Monty Python might be stretching it too far. Those are truly unfounded fears.
Christel Bartelse has a endless, headspinning collection of things to do with masks, or perhaps better, things that masks do to her, and selected audience members. You saw the thing that a single bit of face gear did to Jim Carrey in The Mask? See how twenty masks stretch, contort and consume a very talented woman.
Bring some cheek balm—those laugh muscles are gonna ache.
If you ain’t seen this show, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
(hmmm… I’m sure there’s a mask for that)
The Mask Messenger is an absorbing solo performance by Christel Bartelse that fuses monologue, physical humour and theatre under the guise of a lecture about masks. This one hour show explores the societal and psychological use of masks and the elements of disguise. From touching to comedic to downright bizarre, the masks are brought to life one by one by Bartelse, a regular and award-winning Fringe performer, in engaging and sometimes fascinating vignettes. There were masks left untouched that I would have loved to see brought to life, and I feel the saying “less is more” could apply to the audience participation for this show, but overall it was an intelligent and enchanting performance.
The Odd Couple
A sharp, well paced contemporary version of the classic
The Odd Couple is a much-loved classic and true comedic masterpiece. Beneath the slapstick surface is a deep, human story rife with shortcomings typical of Neil Simon characters. Felix and Oscar are perfectly opposite friends who come together under imperfect circumstances. Felix is a tidy, considerate penny pincher while Oscar is a happy-go-lucky, irresponsible slob, but the pair are lost and hurting. The story perfectly blends comedy and tragedy, and pulling off both successfully can be quite challenging for an actor.
Brian Suchorab and Stephen T. Holmes accomplish it brilliantly. The supporting cast is quite good (although Vinny could use some volume), but the two leads are absolutely spot on. The friendship between them is believable and the physical humour is well played. I was very pleasantly surprised and would really love to see this done in a community theatre setting on a bigger scale. (Nudge, nudge!) Bravo!
Persephone showcases an abundance of energy and movement and, on a stage as small and as polished as that of the London Convention Centre, remarkable surefootedness and in-flight guidance systems.
The music provides a satisfying modulation between adagio and allegro throughout the movements, but the choreography remains throughout the entire performance in top gear. This provides a tremendous showcase for the athleticism of dance—very well executed by the company—but denies them the chance to express subtlety and grace, sustain and expression, through small rather than large movement. It also denies the audience that necessary pause to unfire the brain so that the next peak is as grand as or grander than the last, rather than just more of the same.
Certainly a must-see for London’s dance aficionados, but not a work that would convert the non-believer.
Roller Derby Saved My Soul
Charming, clever, and as exhilarating as the sport of roller derby itself, Roller Derby Saved My Soul is every bit as good as I hoped it would be. Nancy Kenny is endearing as she tells the story of Amy, a comic book- and Buffy-loving geek who walks in the shadow of her good-at-everything sister, June. All that changes when Amy finds her place beside June on a roller derby team, and the sense of belonging and camaraderie that comes along with it.
Kenny nicely blends elements of comedic characters and physical humour while giving a subtle lesson about the sport of roller derby. She passionately portrays Amy as she transitions from geek to “fresh meat” to a bonafide member of the derby team, and charms the audience with every hilarious moment, emotion and conflict in between.
Well acted, well instructed and very funny.
The Rose is a somewhat melodramatic piece about love through time told by some committed, if at times stumbling, young performers.
The Rose is a story told through a series of vignettes about love that are clichéd but cute enough. The actors gave it their all, although they weren’t always entirely convincing due to some apparent nerves and discomfort onstage. The venue was a real problem for this piece as well, as it was often difficult to hear the actors over the sound of city buses roaring by.
There’s a show for every audience, and an audience for every show. Maybe see this if you’re looking to support some first-timers in their attempts to try something new.
Silent Party Interlude
Silent Party Interlude is an introspective quarter-life crisis story told well by an energetic and talented young performer.
Devon More does a good job of expressing the story of this meditation retreat through speech, movement and song. The tunes are catchy and sung beautifully and the vignettes about meditating are surprisingly dynamic and absorbing for being about an activity that involves sitting quietly and not moving.
This pleasantly mellow piece with its catchy songs and quirky, likeable performer is particularly worth a watch for those interested in meditation, who will relate to more of the story’s depth.
Spitting in the Face of the Devil
Brader Confronts The Devil Within
Spitting In The Face Of The Devil is not an easy show to watch.
Sure, there are funny moments and touching stories, and Bob Brader’s impressive impressions will have you chuckling in spite of the subject matter.
But there are parts of Brader’s story that will make your gut wrench and your blood boil.
It’s not lighthearted afternoon entertainment, but it is a show worth watching.
Brader’s performance is mesmerizing, and the 80-minute showtime is packed full of dozens of stories and scenes from his childhood and adulthood. He has you feeling like a member of his close-knit family, and just like any family, this one has its deep, dark secrets.
As Brader tells story of his confrontation with the Devil, it’s impossible not to empathize with his feelings of fear and helplessness and being drawn into the cycle of abuse. Ultimately, though, this is a story of hope, and beating down the Devil inside us all.
It finished with a rocket-propelled standing ovation. Not one of your wussey ovations where a select few (friends and family perhaps?) jump to their feet and a trickle of fence sitters make their minds up to stand while the crew in the booth take bets on whether enough I-guess-I-don’t-want-to-look-like-a-stick-in-the-mudites will struggle to their feet and critical mass will be reached.
No, this eruption was real and spontaneous. The audience had just been taken by an incredibly skillful guide on a journey through tunnels of darkness and pastures of refreshing lightness in such perfect balance and with such a satisfying rhythm that time became irrelevant. It was only after the bracing catharsis when the story finally loosed its grip that the listeners could look back over the remarkable craft of the teller. And by then they were already on their feet, perhaps with just a hint of that relief found in the applause that airline passengers give their pilots when landing after a particularly nail-biting journey.
Spitting In the Face of The Devil should not be qualified by its content as in “A great performance on a difficult topic”, it is simply “A Great Performance”.
2 Ruby Knockers, 1 Jaded Dick: A Dirk Darrow Investigation
This magic show in disguise as a 1930s noir detective tale is a solid win thanks to the writer/performer’s wit, creativity and undeniable charm.
Tim Motley is an extremely endearing performer who adeptly dealt in stride with literally everything going wrong at Wednesday night’s performance. (I honestly thought the “mistakes” were just part of the fun of it all.) His puns and metaphors were hilarious and impressive, from the sleeper jokes that took a minute to laugh at to the immediate groaners that “only make him stronger.” The “mind reading” and audience participation were also worth a fair few laughs and the tricks and gags were overall impressive. I only wish I had been able to catch all of the jokes and plot points through how quickly Motley spoke at times.
Overall, this is definitely one you should see, particularly if you’re into magic, film noir, clever jokes and a performer you can’t help but just really like.
Water Under the Bridge
This family friendly (regardless of what the program says!) musical with puppets is a cute little piece with creative stagecraft, good performances and great ensemble numbers.
Water Under the Bridge is a typical Be Yourself story with a couple of bizarre and entertaining twists. It’s perhaps not as funny as the program advertises, but the puppets were wonderfully crafted and the inventive work done with set and props to create the world around them was a lot of fun to watch. The ensemble musical numbers were definitely the standout here with the performers’ powerful voices coming together beautifully.
It’s certainly not for “mature audiences” only; this one’s worth seeing with the young people in your life if you want something imaginative, feel-good and fun.
World War Three
In the space of 55 minutes Jayson McDonald created the universe, shared the evolution of mankind, told us the history of war, and painted the future of the world in a moral cautionary tale of our future, which could happen, unless we pay attention to our children and their impulses for love. He does all of this with a bare stage, a chair, a hat, and a jacket, and uses them all to create character after character to support this play.
In London we have artists that we don’t pay enough attention to and some of these artists are simply outstanding. Jayson McDonald is one of them. Across the entire fringe circuit his shows are raved about and his work is deeply respected and admired. In London we don’t pay enough attention to him and we don’t put his work in a large enough spaces, with enough support, so he can really take off. Fortunately you can see World War Three this week at The London Fringe and I strongly suggest you do.
In his latest show he starts with the evolution of the universe and ends with the abandonment of us all by the creator and a sets up a series of moral and deeply troubling questions that leave us at the end of 55 minutes grateful for his imagination, skill as a writer, and his work as an actor.
Essentially Jayson sets up a seemingly implausible, but sadly probable, scenario where the world is ruled by an empire, the bees are all dead, and we are faced with the rebellion of our own children. What happens throughout the show is the classic example of a one-man fringe show and an actor who is completely in control of his abilities and his method of creation.
I cannot recommend World War Three highly enough, and Jayson McDonald, our very own London talent. The fact that this playwright and actor is not using the biggest stages, in his own city, is a crime and while the rest of us argue about a performing arts centre we have a world class artist in our midst. See the show, but more importantly let’s seriously start supporting talents like Jayson.