Click Here to read the rest of our reviews from Toronto Fringe 2023.
The Camp Campy Campfire Show (A)
Bursting with energy, this interactive camp-themed kids show is a barrel of fun. Each character has their own unique foibles and relatable problems to help kids normalize common struggles that might otherwise make them feel isolated and the cast knows how to perfectly pitch their performances to get the kids involved and excited without exhausting the parents. The plot is straightforward but action-packed and the audience engagement never feels arbitrary or pandering. A thoughtful delight of a show for all ages.
The End of Everything (B)
A simple but effective little dramedy about two of the last people alive choosing whether to live out their remaining days in comfortable isolation or venture into the unknown, The End of Everything isn’t terribly ambitious in either its futuristic world building or its dramatic dread but it’s not insubstantial either. The jokes could use tightening and a stronger dash of sadness wouldn’t hurt the stakes but there’s charm and hope here, two things we could always use more of.
Sarah and Raquel Rule the World (B)
Racquel Belmonte and Sarah Bennett’s sketch show has some really strong writing and good character concepts. Belmonte in particular is a great character performer with really solid timing and versatility. Bennett isn’t as strong of an actor and could be quicker on the draw with cues to match her partner’s precision though their inherent contrast in energy and tone makes for an interesting balance when it’s working. A few of the sketches draw on tired concepts and start to drag (a kid struggling with his parents’ divorce, a woman warned against getting a “lesbian haircut”) but others land perfectly (Belmonte’s performance as a porn intro scene acting coach is great fun). At times the show is a little too full of defiant “girls can do anything!” messaging rather than just doings said anything but there’s plenty to like between the rough patches.
I really like the concept of this two-person musical about a multi-level marketing party hosted by an introvert after running into an extroverted consultant at the grocery store. MLM is a fascinating world full of dark schemes dressed in bright colours where some people thrive and others end up crushed in debt and self-doubt, but co-writers Katie Miller & Steve John Dale barely even start to explore the contradictions and hypocrisies of that world before resolving everything into a tight 45min package full of self-actualization and friendship. It’s all very sweet but the storytelling, along with Miller & Dale’s music, is simplistic and repetitive despite glimpses of great potential. Miller is a strong vocalist but she’s given herself far too flimsy of a character and singer/songwriter Lauren Mayer is woefully miscast, barely hiding her natural edge as an MLM conformist. Pyramid has its moments but it’s hard not to wallow in what this might have been.
This new play by Sky Gilbert feels like a first draft, or even a preliminary concept piece. It ends a solid 20 minutes before its stated (already pretty short) 50 minute runtime and leaves a lot of questions behind. The controversy-baiting Gilbert is positing some philosophical questions on the topics of sexuality, gender, and identity but his language is too cheekily abstract to properly grapple with anything. Ryan Russell’s character seems to be less of a character than a symbol and he’s out of place next to the much more nuanced Jonathan Wilson who is always compelling, even when spouting very confusing text. The meaning of the play’s strangeness might be interesting to intellectually debate, if one had the sense that the playwright knew what his own meaning was. Inside has the strong patter and polish of a seasoned playwright but the meandering ineffectiveness of a man with too many ideas and no collaborator to tell him which ones are worth exploring.
Red-Nosed Ruddie (D)
Clocking in at 24 minutes of an advertised 60, Red-Nosed Ruddie is a good concept severely under-eventualised. Ruddie is out to correct the record on his legend by telling the true, more grounded story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. It’s a clever concept that could have been taken in all sorts of directions or even hemmed close to the original while applying a modern critical lens. The device of encouraging shouted advice from the kids in the audience is also always a hit. But the chosen plot meanders confusingly then ends abruptly without ever tying back to the original story. The performances are stilted and unenergetic and, even at 24 minutes, the production drags. I almost wonder if something’s gone wrong or gotten cut from the opening performance as the surprise short runtime and lack of story resolution definitely feel linked.