Bluebeard and Take it Back at the Toronto Fringe Festival by Evan Webber

Bluebeard by Pericles Snowdon
Presented by GromKat Productions, Toronto


Take it Back
by Jodee Allen and Helen Simard
Presented by Solid State Breakdance, Montreal

The atmosphere at the Fringe Festival tent can feel closer to that of a Bruegel market scene than a strait-laced theatre festival. Producers sidle up like pickpockets to slip flyers into your hands. Actors sit gossiping in knots like farmers, with their wares – their flyers – arranged in front of them. Performance poets stand silent, beer in hand, wearing back-banners proclaiming the dazzling reviews their shows have garnered in distant cities. For all its craziness, this atmosphere also offers a kind of clarity, because, as a few moments of conversation with any of the above will confirm, what marks the value of a Fringe show is unambiguous; what matters is whether people like it.

Another way of saying this: Fringe artists are engaged primarily with a question about audience - what kinds of relationships can exist between performer and audience? And maybe another, more dangerous question: what do people actually like?

GromKat’s production of UK playwright Pericles Snowdon’s Bluebeard answers that people like a richly imagined Platonic parable dramatized as a post-apocalyptic Jacobean revenge tragedy. It’s an unusual pleasure to hear this kind of language spoken aloud, even if it must be in the King’s English, and the performers are unhurried and (for the most part) show great ease with the story’s uncertainties and logical cul-de-sacs. The production’s struggles are rather with the stakes of its own drama, and the ironies of the show’s fairytale aesthetic are skin deep compared to those in the script, which plays adroitly with our expectations. It’s only by the time we’re asked to choose between safety and certainty inside the castle and a life outside in the unknowable and violent ‘world without a heart’, that we’re we one step ahead of the characters. And this is only because we in the audience know that a kind of practical certainty is actually all too available in the world; what’s harder to find is Mistress Blue’s abundant imagination. If we want the characters to stay, it’s because we’d like to stay there too, for just a little longer.

Of this violent and unknowable world, Take it Back (by Montreal’s Solid State Breakdance) would simply like to know, how come people don’t dance together anymore? It’s an innocent question that hides a very thorny tangle of observations about gender, race, power, and the conversational qualities of dance. They might be a little biased (the title’s a hint), but their investigation is thorough, and their conclusions are charmingly related and occasionally – even unnervingly – thought provoking. For a show where couples dance to the Lindy Hop (among other things), Take it Back manages to stay remarkably light on nostalgia. Though there is a little self-conscious song-and-dance-ness to some of the more narrative moments, there are also moments of unadorned clarity, even joy. When the dancers really laugh, when they really fall, when they really flirt with us and each other, Take it Back cuts through its own problematics with a simpler and more radical statement, which has to do with why they’re dancing together, and why we’re there watching them: sure, abundant imagination is alright, but it’s other people that make things fun.

Bluebeard plays at the Tarragon Mainspace

Tues , July 8 @ 3:00 PM
Thu , July 10 @ Noon
Fri , July 11 @ 8:45 PM
Sun , July 13 @ 5:15 PM

Take It Back plays at the George Ignatieff

Thu , July 10 @ 7:30 PM
Fri , July 11 @ 12:30 PM
Sat , July 12 @ 11:00 PM
Sun , July 13 @ 4:30 PM

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