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SwordPlay: A Play of Swords (A)
It doesn’t get any better than this, folks. Sex T-Rex hit the ball out of the park with this absolute triumph. It’s part video game homage, part Princess Bride, part Game of Thrones and has generous sprinklings of endearing references to other influences too. The result is inspired, imaginative, and first-rate comedic theatrical magic. The ensemble roll with ad libs as smoothly and as entertainingly as they navigate their cleverest scripted sequences. They give you the distinct impression that they’re leaving it all on stage every single night. A show like this one would still be a bargain at twice the ticket price – if you miss it, you really have missed out.
I make a point of attending dance shows as part of my Toronto Fringe experience every year and I’m pleased I was able to catch Kojira by random acts of dance. The presentation consists of three contemporary dance works – a solo bookended by two group pieces – that are each described in their synopses as an exploration of change. While I wasn’t able to identify with the specific verbal summaries provided, the performers created moods in motion that would resonate with any spectator. It was easy to be drawn in by the attention to particular details in each and to be invested in the unique atmospheres created on stage. If you aren’t usually a patron of dance, you should definitely check out this show and let these inspired artists make you feel something as you connect to remarkable, powerfully non-verbal forces.
Last year, I loved Oni, presented by the Mochinosha Puppet Company. This year, the dynamic duo of Seri Yanai and Daniel Wishes (under the banner of the Wishes Mystical Puppet Company) return to present a quirky, mildly melancholy reflection on the aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. A calming soundscape and striking shadow puppetry combine with occasionally whimsical dialogue for a truly one of a kind theatre experience. If you need an oasis for some light introspection between the madness and the musicals, this story is for you. You’ll leave the theatre with a warm heart, an awakened imagination, and things to think about or discuss with your fellow audience members.
Hansel & Gretel (A-)
Much like in the realm of comics, a good all-ages theatrical presentation engages its primary young audience and has fundamentally good storytelling and fluency in its medium. Cow Over Moon Children’s Theatre knows exactly how to keep their wee patrons engaged with lots of light, fun audience participation throughout the course of their modern take on the Grimm fairytale. The titular characters are part of a family in love with their internet-connected gadgets and the two go on an adventure during which obstacles are overcome, lessons are learned, and fun is had. All in all, this production is an absolute treat.
Peter n’ Chris present: Here Lies Chris (A-)
Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson always make the most of their 60 minute time slot. In the early minutes of a Peter n’ Chris show, audiences know they’re among friends. The good time being had by the performers is completely contagious. This time, the lads get more meta-theatrical than you might’ve seen them get previously as they take Fringe patrons on a multi-dimensional adventure. Simultaneously smart and silly, Peter n’ Chris have an easygoing energy that’s absolutely perfect if you’ve spent your Fringe festival thinking deep thoughts or wrestling with inner demons.
Becoming Burlesque (B)
I think it’s positively fantastic that there’s some top-tier burlesque included in this year’s Fringe line-up. There are few companies comprised of dancers as technically proficient as Love Letters Cabaret and fewer choreographers as imaginative within the medium as Pastel Supernova. Becoming Burlesque ties a collection of performances together with a tenuous storyline of a reluctant neophyte coming into her own as a member of the burlesque company. The show would’ve been a good introduction to burlesque had it not been in a forced proscenium theatre space. The atmosphere certainly took a hit as a result of the performers being so isolated from the audience. The separation also resulted in an audience self-consciousness which made the standard practice of hooting and hollering feel a little foreign for those of us who had attended burlesque before. And I don’t think the burlesque first-timers really caught on or felt the same expectation from the performers for that sort of participation. I’d love to see this concept undergo some more development with the aim of making the dialogue as engaging as the dance. And performing in a venue licensed to serve adult beverages wouldn’t hurt.