- Imagine yourself at Fringe, says Rhys Bevan-John.
Happy Hobo in Moonland
At a time when many children lack the opportunities to play unstructured games and the freedom to use their imaginations both at school and at home comes a beautiful show for children from Rhys Bevan-John called Happy Hobo in Moonland. Bevan-John, with the help of beautiful masks and puppets, plays a multitude of characters, from a Grandpa Wizard Hobo, to a dragon and even the moon, but mostly he guides his audience into helping him create their magical words through harnessing their own creative minds. We get to play and engage with the characters, as opposed to simply watching something created for us by someone we can’t see.
The story is clear and tightly constructed. Happy Hobo, with the help of his friend Crow, must go to Moonland to help his Grandpa Wizard Hobo rescue Pan, the spirit of nature, from the evil aynrynd, who steals dreams and fosters laziness and unhappiness. There are some beautiful messages woven into the story, but Bevan-John firmly roots his tale in fun, silliness and a full hearted love for play. Adults will leave uplifted. Children will relish in the permission to do what is most natural for them- use their imaginations.
- Amanda Campbell
Happy Hobo in Moonland
Rhys Bevan-John soars again as the Happy Hobo, a chipper drifter with a conscience, who dreams of Rock Candy Mountain. Hobo is instead whisked away to the mystical plain of Moonland on the direst of missions. Earth’s forest king Pan, has been abducted by the sinister Aynrynd. Fauna have lost their raison d’être. The trees have lost their song. Hobo must face the harrowing task of vanquishing Aynrynd and restoring his planet’s natural balance.
Fantastical as it may be, Rhys paints a real struggle into a lush imaginary landscape whilst seamlessly juggling a plethoric panel of distinctive characters. The villainous Aynrynd is a powerful antithesis to Hobo. He pompously spews the empty merits of materialism, tempting our penniless protagonist with what he desires most. It’s a battle of wills done in a masterful way, making it immediately accessible to young viewers.
If you’re an adult ready to take on the mindset of twenty five children simultaneously then you’re ready to hitch a ride on this “Imagination Train”. Emotional stakes are constructed for children that respect their entertainment needs. With lots of audience participation and subtle homages to Narnia, Wizard of Oz, and Monty Python, Happy Hobo fires on all cylinders creating a gratifying all-ages experience. Don’t miss it.
- Carey Bray
My Impaired Moral Compass
In the interest of keeping it fresh, I had no interest in doing a repeat review for a Fringe show. But I felt inexplicably curious reading the review for Compass. Unlike other genres, comedies have the wonderful ability to create a better experience for their viewers. They can tweak and transform it into something memorable. The audience controls how a show flows. This is particularly true for the unpredictable world of stand-up. It’s a career where so many factors dictate your success. The receptiveness of your audience is the be-all-or-end-all. I was pleased that my Compass experience differed from those before.
It’s evident that Jonathan Baum is still honing his comic chops and learning what works best. I would argue that performing hung-over probably isn’t the ideal battle plan. But once the audience loosened up, Baum kept the comedic coals stoked throughout his run. Baum blends street humour well, discussing the pitfalls of modern dating, the dreaded club-scene, sexual miscommunication, but most admirably, the pleasure found in following one’s dreams. Baum takes shots at the audience, but never at their expense, and that stands testament to who he is as a comic. It’s obvious that Baum just wants a good time and I witnessed how much fun stand-up is when done well. Jonathan Baum is worth a second chance.
- Carey Bray
Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Comedy duo Brie Watson and Gillian English star in this fact-paced improv comedy show. Watson is a bundle of explosive energy, and in contrast classically trained Shakespearean actor English is the “straight man” of the comedy duo. Watson brings the bravado of her boisterous stage persona to each sketch while English excels at clearly delineated characters, which ranged during the performance I saw from a half-child/half-piglet, to a jealous valley girl yoga student. This somewhat feminist version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? relies upon the audience to call out some simple answers to get the story rolling, thus it will be a different show each night. The performers call their show a long form improvisation rather than a traditional improve game, and that long form sketch is their strong suit (whereas spelling, they made it clear, is not their strong suit). As improv, the sketches went in unusually surrealist directions, like the aforementioned human mother threatening to send her half-swine daughter to the slaughterhouse if she doesn’t hurry up get ready for school, and an Arctic honeymoon where an unsuspecting groom meets his bride’s rugby lad multiple personality in an ice hotel. The duo has a lovely chemistry, despite an occasional bit of “blocking” and the odd struggle to keep the longform improve going. It’s all perfectly enjoyable silliness, which in improv, is success.
- Patricia Denyko
Why would anyone want to start a riot? That’s the question that the “comedy” Agitprop purports to answer.
Instead, Tom Lute’s rambling script treats the audience to 50 minutes of mostly nonsensical musings that culminate in extreme violence. Not my idea of funny or entertaining.
The premise of the play is that a newly-dumped guy and his loud-mouthed best friend meet up in bar to drown their sorrows. Throughout the course of the evening, the conversation devolves from sophomoric swearing and sexist comments into a pseudo-political/philosophical monologue.
Neither of the main characters is likable, and supporting characters are given short shrift. They literally or figuratively disappear for inexplicably long periods of time.
A question that is frequently asked throughout Agitprop is “what’s the point?”. I’m afraid I left the theatre wondering exactly that.
- Kate Watson
Toronto native, Shawn Hitchens is a thoroughly charming, skilled and, dare I say, spunky performer. Using stand-up as his medium (with some neat theatrical flourishes), he leads us safely and happily through his encounters with ginger oppression and his experience as a sperm donor for two Lesbian friends. The jokes come quickly…OK, enough. Sorry! That’s not what I really want to say about this piece. As funny as Ginger Nation is (and it’s very funny!), there’s more going on here. Mr. Hitchins’ story is considerably more substantive than a masturbatory one-off. His journey is one of unexpected and touching self discovery. Everyone and anyone will find something in it to enjoy, but queer viewers may find a particular resonance in his honest examination of what it means for a young gay man to become a biological father, extending not just the Ginger Nation, but the parameters and possibilities of the human family itself. And did I mention it's funny? Bravo!
- Hugo Dann
Anna Fraser’s Shrinking Violet is a fun, perceptive look into a teenager’s relationship with her eating disorder. Jane (played by Fraser) is your average high school student with insecurities, major crushes and homework stress, while at the same time living with her widowed mother in the wake of recent loss. In midst of her grief, and teenage awkwardness, Jane’s imaginary friend Ana (popular online slang -slash- therapy-talk for Anorexia) begins to control every aspect of her life.
The unapologetically millennial script is a realistic portrayal of how anorexia erodes so much more than the body, while the actors’ breezy chemistry is sublime. Fraser provides hospitable, hilarious insight into how eating disorders can stem from the inability to deal with trauma (a common though not required factor behind eating disorder development), and the comfort/addiction the illness seems to provide to a disordered mind.
The trickiest part of writing about anorexia for educational purposes is that candid disclosure can lead to an oversharing of “tips,” providing how-to’s for audience members suffering from or developing an eating disorder. The downfall of Shrinking Violet is that the story is rife with ideas that a susceptible crowd could use for more harm than good.
- Meghan Hubley
A Tension to Detail
Often, I think people mistake going to the theatre as being an entirely passive experience. It is, after all, not the art of running or the art of doing, it is the art of seeing. A show like Gerard Harris’ A Tension to Detail, which plays at the Museum of Natural History, as part of the Atlantic Fringe Festival, is an ardent reminder that being an active audience member watching great theatre can be an exhilarating experience. Hold onto your hats and buckle your seat belts.
Harris is rapid, catapulting energy, reminiscent of someone like Robin Williams or Robert Munsch, who jam packs his stories with comedy and charm and builds and builds and builds toward a heart-racing, beat the clock, storytelling sprint. The show is very personal, it’s captivating and insightful and often hilariously funny. It sometimes wanders into dark territory, but Harris creates a safe space that makes those moments okay. Ultimately, A Tension to Detail is also a sort of love letter to storytelling, an exploration of the form of the idea of one person connecting to an audience in a way that is very old, but entirely immediate.
- Amanda Campbell
Elliot Maxwell begins his high-concept solo show with an acknowledgement that what follows is a self-indulgent monologue written by the performer to give himself some dramatic meat to chew on and, above all, make him seem sexually attractive. It’s a bold joke, and the last joke I remember in his dark elliptical collection of stories that evoke the vulnerability of children and the psychological confines of masculinity. It unfolds more in the style of a lecture than a drama, partly because Maxwell often stands in direct address to the audience while videos play behind him (and on him) projecting bewitching images of submerged young people swimming nude, women exploring nature and baptismal waters. At times Maxwell interacts with characters on the screen, writhing before a grieving mother, or reading a letter to an ex-girlfriend. The technology is perhaps both strength and weakness of the show, because at other times the screen mediates between the audience and actor, leaving most of his deeply visceral acting, and his emotionally affecting imagery, on the screen rather than on the stage. Maxwell is a handsome and engaging storyteller who keeps the audience’s attention; all weekend at fringe, I’ve seen audiences burst into spontaneous applause mid-show, but in Water Choke you could hear a pin drop, and even the final bow felt a bit like applauding at a funeral. This is noble theatre, openly so, aiming to start discussion about the role of society’s limiting concept of masculinity in the arenas of child sexual abuse, mental health and suicide. Earnest and heartbreaking, I wanted to turn away from this difficult subject matter, but remained transfixed.
- Patricia Denyko
To Dance With a Demon
In a show advertised as The Depression Chronicles, Tanya Belliveau’s show is not for the faint of heart. It’s the adult version of Red Fish and Belliveau never holds back. It’s an intense performance with lots of conviction, but lacking in nuances. Tanya reaches into her arsenal, employing every demonic metaphor she can muster. We are constantly reminded that she’s eternally balancing on a razor-thin wire and one misstep can send her tumbling into the fires of her own internal conflict.
Throughout the show’s duration, I felt more of an outside spectator than an audience member. She despises the medication and jargon prescribed by doctors and justifies her past addiction to alcohol. It’s painful to see her so explicitly reduced to pieces, to hear her referring to herself as a “garbage heap… an albatross around the necks of those she loves.”
At times I felt as if there was a wall between Belliveau and myself. I learned that was her design, that discomfort and detachment are default coping-mechanisms for those unsure of how to deal with these foreign devils. It’s a clever means of presenting topical subject matter and likely to leave audience members equally aware, albeit somewhat emotionally-pummelled.
- Carey Bray
Yes People, No People
If they were prizes for expertly choreographed theatre pieces, Yes People, No People would win one.
Designed as a series of short sketch pieces performed by Zach Faye and Julia Topple, the show is knitted together by over-arching social commentary about beauty, wealth and belonging.
Particularly successful is a recurring bit about a well-to-do young couple slumming it in a coffee shop. Stylized movements conjure up their personalities and situation. With simple strokes, the piece reveals much about a particular relationship while commenting on the larger issue of prescribed gender roles at the same time.
Also memorable is a beautifully written commentary on the correlation of wealth and beauty. It is performed by Faye as he applies make-up (without a mirror) with awesome precision.
Bold complementary colours are used in props and costumes, and they pop beautifully against the dimly lit stage.
Smart, stylish and beautifully executed, Yes People, No People is a Fringe must-see.
- Kate Watson
I love a good bar-room play. Halifax writer/actor Matt McIntyre can add his play Spirits to the rich tradition established by the likes of Eugene O’Neil, Patrick Kennedy, and Charles Bukowski. The blurb in the Fringe program captures the mood of the piece perfectly. What it doesn’t mention is the simple but elegant staging by Dorian Lang (one of our most interesting up-and-coming local directors) or the terrific work of his strong ensemble cast, including Mr. McIntyre. In classic Fringe fashion this production reveals a group of emerging artists coming into their own. Spirits is a tight, evocative piece of theatre. Don’t miss it!
- Hugo Dann
For information about show times, venues and costs, visit AtlanticFringe.ca