Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fringe Post-Game Wrap-Up

And so the 2012 London Fringe Fest wrapped up tonight. Last year, we went to 11 shows, which was 9 more than we'd attended our inaugural year (in 2010). This year, my total rose again, but just to 13 (Vicki saw one more than I did). I really liked this year's selections but didn't love them quite as much as the previous set. It could be that there just weren't as many truly outstanding shows as last year, although it's more likely that my expectations were simply higher this time around.

Here's what I went to, in decreasing order of how much I enjoyed them (though every show had at least some aspect to it that appealed to me, which is pretty remarkable):

Bookworm - This was my favourite performance at Hamilton Fringe last year, and took the top spot here once again. Corin Raymond's storytelling abilities are amazing, and he had Vicki, Susan, Julie and I mesmerized right from the start last Saturday night. He covers a lot of ground, both personal and literary, and even manages to work in a bit of Spider-Man material along the way! Anyone who has any love of books whatsoever should see this show before they die.

Underneath the Lintel - This was a funny, poignant and educational solo performance by Patrick O'Brien, known to Tammy's generation as Mr Dewey on Saved by the Bell. I loved the transformation of O'Brien's character over the course of the hour, as his uptight librarian slowly but steadily morphed into a nomadic, obsessive pursuer of a Biblical myth. I doubt we'd have seen this one had we not attended the Performers Showcase the night before the festival started, as it was O'Brien's 3-minute vignette of the show that sold us on it.

Forty Wonderful - This 3-person play about a woman turning 41 and reflecting on her somewhat-unsatisfying life surprised me in its second half. While it started off conventionally enough with the woman's friend throwing her a disastrous (and unattended) birthday party, it kicked into a higher gear when the 3rd member of the cast arrived in the form of a stripper-cop. The interactions of the trio completely won me over. This was definitely lighter material than some of the entries lower down on the list, but it just resonated with me for some reason.

Vernus Says SURPRISE - Vernus mimed his way through a day in his life, as he tried to buy his granddaughter a birthday present. Ken Godmere was perfect as the senior citizen to whom even ringing phones and doorbells are confusing, and he definitely had the audience eating out of his hands within a few minutes. It was funny, and sad, and true-to-life, and that's a tall order to deliver without saying a word (well, without saying more than a word, technically).

Debris - The perennial Passionfool offering this year, Debris was every bit as intense as we've come to expect from Justin Quesnelle. His creative partner, Eva Blahut, rounded out the cast and was very good, as well, though Justin's awfully hard to compete with. I wanted the complicated story of the two siblings to pay off more than it did, I think, and that's the only reason it's not higher on my list than this.

Letters in Wartime - I found the long-distance relationship of the two World War 2-era lovers, separated for several years by the war but keeping up a correspondence on paper, to be very touching and real. Each of them finds something in the arms of others while the years roll by and both of them grow and change as people, and yet the bond between them is never quite broken by those all-too-common developments.

The Abyss Burrow - This was the first performance by Vanessa Quesnelle (sister to Justin) that I've seen, and it was definitely a strong one. She had the stage to herself on her way to portraying a complex set of memories that built up to a satisfying conclusion, but I just couldn't quite get past the interpretive dance segments that kept popping up between each memory. Without them, I think I'd have loved The Abyss Burrow... as it was, I liked it quite a bit.

Call Mr Robeson - Black singer, actor, orator and civil rights activist Paul Robeson's life certainly makes an interesting story, and I greatly enjoyed Tayo Aluko's performance as Mr Robeson. I'm not a fan of the type of music Robeson sang, but that only slightly dimished my appreciation of this interpretation of an amazing historical figure. As Susan said afterward, it's hard to believe that none of us had ever heard of him before this, considering how eventful his story really was.

Fear Factor: Canine Edition - I picked this one for our night out with Julie because I know how much she loves dogs, and it mostly lived up to those expectations. Not surprisingly, Julie said afterwards that her least favourite parts were the stories not revolving around Abby, the canine at the centre of the action. I found the show to be equal parts humourous and poignant, and characteristically shed a few tears before it was over. The only reason I put this so low down the list is that the subject matter didn't have quite the same weight as some of the other performances, but it was still a solid hit with me.

Conspiracy - This was the most conventional show we saw, with five characters and a pretty straight-forward plot: there's a house somewhere that The Powers That Be put trouble-makers in once they start to learn the secrets of the grand conspiracies that permeate our world. I think a conspiracy theorist would've loved it more than I did, but even I could appreciate the performances and was pleasantly surprised by the revelation provided by one of the characters at the end.

The Purdy Boys - This Hardy Boys spoof had some good moments but seemed too heavily influenced by the TV versions of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew rather than the literary ones. I loved how the three actors played seven characters through artful scene setups, and the funny bits made it worth seeing. Still seems strange that this won its venue's Impressario award over Vernus Says SURPRISE, though, as there's just no comparison between the two.

Petr Pann - Re-imagine Peter Pan and Wendy as modern day drug addicts, and you've pretty much grokked the premise of Petr Pann. Tinkerbell, of course, must then be a hallucination of Petr's, transforming into a horrible succubus just as soon as Petr has his first bad trip. I found lots to like about this admittedly odd offering, but neither of my traveling companions did. So it's possible I was just feeling generous that night.

Epic Pitch - I so badly wanted to love Mikaela Dyke in this one-woman show. She's the roommate of someone we saw (and loved) at Hamilton Fringe last year, and I was more than ready for "the elevator pitch for her steampunk epic" that the programme advertised. Instead, we got a meandering, genre-defying journey that seemed to rely as much on audience-participation as anything else to move it along. Mikeala herself is wonderful to watch, with natural comedic timing and obvious improvisational skills, but the material just didn't go anywhere. I asked Susan at one point if she knew what steampunk was, and she freely admitted that she didn't; in the end, though, it didn't matter, as that was such a small portion of what Epic Pitch was 'about.' I guess I just need a more coherent story to follow than what we got here. I look forward to seeing Ms. Dyke in something else that utilizes her capabilities in a more polished fashion.

Whew! That was a lot of Fringing, and I'm kind of looking forward to a break right now. At least until we find our next out-of-town one to go to, that is...

No comments: