Fringe reviews: Pandemonium remarkably energetic

The Times Colonist is reviewing the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival, which continues in downtown venues to Sept. 4. All ratings are on a five-star scale.

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Pandemonium

Wood Hall (Victoria Conservatory of Music)

Continues Aug 28, Aug. 30, Sept. 3, 4

Rating: five stars

A rambunctious spoken-word poet, Britain’s Rob Gee is among the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival’s perennially popular performers.

He calls his latest show, Pandemonium, a “poetry jukebox.” The premise is that the audience picks up a list of Gee’s poems and shouts out requests. It’s a bit like Elvis Costello’s Wheel of Songs device, in which a game-show wheel is spun to select the set list. The difference with Pandemonium, of course, is that most of us don’t know Gee’s poetry by title. Still, the gimmick gives the proceedings a rollicking party feel.

Gee’s poems are comic, brimming with anarchistic joy. Like Costello, he approaches his art with an intelligently punkish sensibility. What places this bald, bespectacled dynamo well above the pack is his skewed humanism and his gonzo personae. Sweating like a madman, Gee is goofy, likable, remarkably energetic.

His opening poem on Saturday, The Day My Head Exploded, gives a sense of what Gee’s all about. It’s a hilariously grotesque fantasy about a man who awakes to find his head has becoming a “big wobbly cyst” that’s growing larger by the minute. The Kafka-esque medical establishment is no help, babbling about far-off appointments and Ibuprofen. When the man’s cranium finally explodes, the doctor reprimands him: “We have a zero tolerance policy towards exploding patients.” It sounds a bit silly in print, but in performance it works wonderfully.

There’s a satirical edge to his material — Gee skewers everything from American Idol judge Simon Cowell to the “lunatics” who supported Brexit. Yet behind everything is a big heart.

One of the cleverest offerings was To Whom It May Concern, written from the perspective of a woman facing dementia. Rather than feeling sorry for herself, she offers a puckish jauntiness, at one point requesting: “If you have an ounce of compassion, please slip me the occasional whiskey.” Earlier, she says: “Be patient with my husband, we’re been married since 1963, and every pore of his body is going to want to stay with me.” It's typical Gee — combining gleeful subversiveness with poignant observations about the human condition.

— Adrian Chamberlain

The Quiet Environmentalist 

Wood Hall (Victoria Conservatory of Music)

Continues Aug. 28, 29, Sept. 2, 4

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

The Quiet Environmentalist is a small show with modest ambitions. That said, it’s a well-crafted effort — brimming with intelligence and humanity.

Performed by Victoria’s Sarah Jean Valiquette (who created it with Carolyn Moon) it’s a confessional monologue about a young woman who survived a nine-month stay in hospital for an eating disorder.

The topic is hardly ground-breaking territory –- Oprah, Dr. Phil, celebrities and legions of bloggers keep us painfully up to date on anorexia/bulimia/obsessive-exercising etc. Yet a bare-footed Valiquette managed to make hers a compelling show, delivering it a confident, down-to- earth manner that connects with the audience.

Valiquette skilfully describes a mother-daughter relationship that sounds perfect. Indeed, it’s a bit too perfect to be true. We learn there are whiffs of obsessiveness in mom’s personality too (there’s a wonderful description of her desperate attempts, as a teen, to undergo a Billy Graham-delivered religious conversion). Using anecdotes, Valiquette shows rather than tells us what this relationship is about.

For the most part she spares us graphic descriptions of battling an eating disorder, instead focusing on reactions of family and friends. There’s a certain writerly objectivity at work here, making for a more potent piece.

The Quiet Environmentalist also benefits from poetic passages replete with imaginative imagery. On Saturday these were delivered too quickly; however, this will no doubt improve as the run progresses.

— AC

Everlast

Wood Hall

Continues Aug. 28, 29 , Sept. 1, 3

Rating: one star

I’ve seen many peculiar shows at the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival over the years. Everlast may well be the strangest.

Victoria’s Kevin Koch bounces on stage dressed as a pope, complete with white robes and mitre. He wears blue trainers and has a pair of Everlast boxing gloves. The notion is that he’s Pope Marty, a pugilistic pontiff who wants to have it out with God Himself. A street-wise guy, Marty speaks like Rocky Balboa.

That much I know. As for the rest, well, it was difficult to figure the heck was going on. Over 50 minutes, Koch spins a seemingly never-ending series of stories that verge on the incomprehensible. The intent, probably, is some sort of comedy/satire. But who knows, really.

It’s a shame, as Koch’s quite a good performer. He is, however, a man in search of a script. This eccentric hodge-podge isn’t it.

— AC

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