Fringe Festival: Wyrd tales from the Bard

The Times Colonist is reviewing the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival, which continues in downtown locations until Sept. 6. All ratings are out of five.

 

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The Wyrd Sisters

Where: Metro Studio
When: Today, Sept., 4, 5, 6
Rating: Four stars

The wyrd (or weird) sisters are the three crones from Macbeth. The Wyrd Sisters takes this notion of Shakespearean witches with mysterious powers and expands it into a compelling dance-movement piece.

Six performers offer abstract and intriguing interpretations of spooky segments from some of the Bard’s greatest hits. The witches, personifying the supernatural, appear throughout.

There is the “beware the ides of March” sequence from Julius Caesar. There’s puckish trickery from A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Hamlet’s encounter with his father’s ghost and the “thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d” spell-casting scene from Macbeth.

The Wyrd Sisters offers snippets of dialogue; however, it’s primarily a dance piece. Lively choreography by Nicola Whitney-Griffiths (who plays one of the witches) is energetic and sometimes acrobatic, featuring two-person backflips and somersaults, for example. The performers, all University of Victoria students or recent graduates, are not all trained dancers, yet they do justice to the movement.

Carl Keys’s score — a recorded soundtrack — is wonderfully evocative: ominous basso synth figures, strange tickings and exhalations, peculiar bleeps and gurglings.

To fully appreciate The Wyrd Sisters you have to be familiar with the plays it references. That being the case, the piece doesn’t quite stand on its own. Nonetheless, this is a powerful, primal work that easily holds one’s interest over 45 minutes. On Sunday it received a standing ovation.

 

Camel Camel

Metro Studio
Today, Sept. 2, 4, 5.
Rating: Two stars

Camel Camel starts off promisingly enough.

Two pairs of stockinged legs are seen from underneath a giant fan. The legs dance. The owners of the legs then appear — two brim-hatted, fake mustachioed vaudevillians. They introduce themselves as Herbert and Gerbert. Their top halves are male; their bottom halves are female.

“We’re gross, we’re sick and we just can’t help it,” they declare.

Fair enough. This is fringe theatre, after all. However, the pair soon metamorphose (or rather, devolve) into the buck-toothed Camel Sisters. And things go steadily downhill.

There’s plenty of kooky dress-up of the “what’s-in-Grandma’s-trunk” variety. There’s singing and dancing of the “this-is-so bad-it’s-good” variety.

Only, it’s not really that good.

Physical comedians Janessa Johnsrude and Meghan Frank may aspire to Beckett-esque absurdity or Euro-weirdo profundity. Unfortunately, the writing is uneven and the performances on Sunday night were merely so-so.

 

The Untold Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Metro Studio
Sept. 3, 4 and 5
Rating: Three stars

Disney would have us believe fairy tales are all about beautiful princesses, handsome princes and happy endings.

Those familiar with the Brothers Grimm know differently. These German story-tellers had a taste for the macabre and frightening (try reading their disturbing version of Bluebeard).

Chimera Theatre, a young troupe from Kamloops, knows this. In The Untold Tales of the Brothers Grimm, they explore some of the brothers’ lesser-known-fare.

There’s a tale about a poor soldier who makes a grotesque contract with Lucifer. Another yarn details a devilish deal in which a man believes he’ll be forewarned about his death, but to his horror, misunderstands the portents. There’s one about the wise daughter of a peasant who outwits a king. And there are two others.

Chimera has opted for an approach intended to appeal to adults as well as children. The Brothers Grimm and the fairy tale characters make winking asides about the action. A father, for instance, speaks of “my dear children, who I often treat like property rather than real people.”

Overall, the concept is a good one; it’s refreshing to see lesser-known tales explored. But on Sunday uneven acting (clearer articulation and greater projection were needed) weighed down the action. As well, the script needs trimming. Five stories is too much — the last was related at speed-freak velocity, likely because the allotted time was running out.

If you do bring children, be advised this is most suitable for youngsters aged eight years and older. — AC

 

For Body and Light Presents: Bear Dreams

Metro Studio
Sept. 3, 4, 5, 6
Rating: One star

After a long day of fringing, Bear Dreams was my final show. It’s about a young couple who find each other and then go searching for the “heart of winter.” At least, that’s what the program says.

This dance-recitation from Montreal featured a bearded, middle-aged fellow in a touque strumming his electric guitar. He solemnly ruminated, sotto voce, about Canada, the wilderness and so forth. Beside him lay a young couple, eyes closed and heads on pillows, apparently in deep sleep.

“I’m feeling this dance down in my belly,” declared the guitarist. The couple gamely commenced rolling around.

The guitarist said some things about the God of Creation and Sheba dancing on his belly. He appeared to be playing only two chords over and over. This continued, more or less, throughout the show.

The couple — a bearded, long-haired man and a woman with wild, curly hair — were now dancing. Then the male dancer started dancing with an enormous light bulb hanging by a cord from the ceiling.

The light bulb went round and round in circles, appearing to chase the male dancer like a giant firefly. He seemed disturbed by this. The guitarist intoned something about a “molecule chain.”

The woman started dancing solo. The male dancer lay down on his pillow, taking a well-earned kip.

The pair reunited. Then the female dancer got badly twisted up in some parachute fabric. She went underneath the parachute and started writhing about animatedly.

There were storm sounds.

The guitarist spoke gravely of walking through the woods on a cold winter night. The dancing couple were now underneath the parachute, doing something with small battery-powered lights.

Then another woman (she operated the hanging light, making it go up and down) entered the audience, inviting them onstage. A gaggle of theatregoers gathered with the dancers under the parachute, now suspended so it looked like a yurt. They all had coloured lights. It looked festive and fun. I wondered why I wasn’t invited into the yurt, being in the front row and all.

The guitarist began talking about a bear settling into a deep sleep. I glanced at the man beside me, whose head drooped in a pose that suggested either deep rapture or hibernation. Or perhaps he was having bear dreams.

After 55 minutes, it was over. Walking outside, I was overcome with a feeling of tremendous elation and began musing on the transformative power of theatre.

More Fringe reviews HERE

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