The Vancouver Fringe Festival: It’s the annual theatre event that can draw every sort of person out of their home. No matter what peaks your interest, there is something here for you. The Fringe is where the obscure and unknown join together, and that results in shows being fairly hit and miss. Going to a show you know nothing about can result in a life changing experience, or one you won’t even remember the next morning. To avoid the latter, here are some recommendations:
Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the 1891 Thomas Hardy novel, has seen its share of adaptations over the years, but nothing quite like TES by Steve Larkin. In this modern retelling, a teenage boy of working class background is accused of rape he didn’t commit and faces repercussions for the rest of his life. Larkin’s ability to switch between characters is remarkable, and the show uses poetry, wordplay, plot, and politics, to push the audience through an array of emotions. Although based on a complex plot-heavy Victorian novel, the story isn’t a challenge to follow, and every audience member can find something to relate to. No doubt one of the best shows at this year’s Fringe.
Poor is an original Fringe Festival show written by Pam Johnson and performed by Lisa Bunting. The one woman production follows a rich Vancouver mom who realizes how meaningless her life is and discovers what really matters to her… by periodically living on the streets in Vancouver’s Downtown EastSide. She envies the poor for their creativity and for not having to worry about what anyone thinks of them. Filled with brazen comedy, Poor is light on it’s feet, and Bunting’s lively, dynamic performance forgives whatever the script may be lacking in dialogue or character development.
The Unfortunate Ruth is another one woman show, starring the commanding Tara Travis. She plays twins, in two parallel universes, bringing up interesting questions about the difference between nature and nurture. In one universe, Ruth is confident, but riddled with physical disfigurements; in the other, Ruthie has had enough surgery to make her “normal”, however she hardly values herself. The only downfall within this play is its plot: when the action finally begins, there are only a few minutes left in the show. Sure, an ambiguous ending can be a thought provoking writing choice, but that didn’t seem like the intent in this instance.
Cannibal: The Musical, this year’s production by Awkward Stage Productions, which annually submits to the Fringe Festival, is pure silliness. Chock full of double entendres, the crass jokes bear a likeness to Book of Mormon and Avenue Q – no surprise coming from playwright Trey Parker (who also created South Park). Awkward’s shows are always well directed with high production values for a Fringe show. Debbie Wiecke’s costumes particularly shine this year. The most interesting thing, perhaps, is that the cast is made up of youth; dappled with talent, the young performers are a force to be reckoned with. Awkward puts on shows throughout the year, and I suggest continuing to follow them due to their unique musical theatre selections and raw talent.
Finally, the always engaging talents of James and Jamsey strike again. Their new show, High Tea, is a comedy based on mime, audience engagement, British patriotism, and tea. Starting off with a style akin to Dr. Seuss, the two characters very quickly break the 4th wall (literally) and take off on an adventure that tests the boundaries of imagination. Such a description seems like a show for young children, however the show possessed a sophisticated sort of comedy, and the actors showed remarkable talent for mime. High Tea continues to play around the lower mainland after the Fringe. I highly recommend hunting down one of their shows elsewhere.