Fringe 2019 Reviews, Part 3
Note that the following reviews are the completely subjective opinions of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the other members of Assaulted Fish.
Amelie the musical hews pretty closely to the plot of the popular film that it’s based on. As a young girl, Amelie Poulain is overly sheltered by her parents to the point where she has almost no contact with other people. As a result she develops a rich and imaginative inner life (as well as what appears to be quite severe social anxiety). Amelie grows into an eccentric young woman and moves to Paris to work as a waitress. A discovery of lost childhood mementoes and their subsequent return to their owner leads Amelie to devote herself to anonymously doing good deeds for the people around her. However, in doing so is she disregarding her own life and her own need for human connection and love?
West Moon Theatre has mounted a charming production that is as light and whimsical as its source material. This Amelie is bursting with colour and movement. Whereas the movie used CGI, the musical relies on songs and the clever use of the ensemble cast -sometimes as a kind of living set – to represent Amelie’s imagination (the Firehall Theatre has quite a deep stage and the production takes full advantage of that). There is not a weak link in the ensemble, although special mention must be made of Georgia Acken and Tessa Trach, who play the young and adult Amelie respectively, and Cathy Wilmot, who does a fine comic turn as Suzanne the owner of the Café where Amelie works. Even though it clocks in at a full 90 minutes, I was enraptured from beginning to end. — Marlene Dong
(Full disclosure: Amelie’s director, Chris Lam, is a friend and a former member of Assaulted Fish.)
Aaron Malkin has an easy, natural presence on stage that works well for the themes he covers in Dandelion. This is a much more personal show than I’m used to seeing from Malkin. As one-half of the comedic clowning duo James & Jamesy, Malkin is often cast in the “white face” role next to the “red nose” antics of his partner. In Dandelion, Malkin reveals a vulnerable side when he talks about his insecurities – and his desire to uphold a standard – as a father to his five-year old son Oliver. He admits to being an anxious person and making mistakes that affect him deeply. Threaded between the more serious reflections are moments of whimsy. When Malkin reads from a notebook where he’s recorded questions that Oliver asks him, he’s conspiratorial in his delivery which endears himself to the audience.
There isn’t a strong structure to the show; it’s more of a series of scenes and Malkin moves between them with lighting changes or video vignettes. The highlight of the show involves a brick of butter and I won’t say anything more except that it allows Malkin’s clowning skills to be on full display. Dandelion may be too quiet a show for some audiences, but if you’re in the mood for something lighter, let Malkin’s performance take you there. — MD
How does he remember all those words? This is Martin Dockery’s second show at the Fringe this year and, like Inescapable (reviewed here), the semi-autobiographical You Belong Here is filled with text, this time delivered solo in Dockery’s trademark, hyperactive manner. Dockery is a master performer who may not have invented the shaggy dog story, but has certainly raised it to the level of art. Trading in his usual flannel shirt for a dapper suit and tie, he initially bounds onto the stage like a demented talk show host only to stop and restart the show multiple times for increasingly spurious (and hilarious) reasons. Gradually, we realize that the form of the show reflects the content as You Belong Here is all about beginnings and restarts (in fact a more accurate title might be You Begin Here). Dockery is good at beginnings, he tells us with tongue firmly in cheek, less good with endings and terrible at middles. This is ironic because sometimes You Belong Here feels like it is all middle, stuffed with endless imaginative digressions (including an extended riff on how not to visit the Forbidden City) and witty asides with few hints as to where the narrative will go next. Where it does finally end up is with the best beginning of all, an event that literally begins a new phase in Dockery’s life. The final irony of You Belong Here is I was so taken with this tale of beginnings I almost didn’t want it to end. — MD
Over the years, I have enjoyed several musicals from Awkward Stage Productions (their 2017 production of Cry Baby was a personal favourite and was a Pick of the Fringe that year) but unfortunately their production of Lift is a misfire. Lift is simply not a very good musical. Lift looks intriguing on paper: every day a group of eight strangers spend 54 seconds together riding a lift at the Convent Garden train station. Among them is a busker who imagines what is going on in each characters lives and projects his own stories of heartache and loss on them. In practice, the stories that spring from the busker’s imagination are cliched, sexist and stereotyped: the executive assistant who is secretly in love with her boss, the ballerina who moonlights as a lap dancer, the businessman who is unknowingly sexting with a gay man. None of the characters are developed in any meaningful way. The story and songs are meted out in the most rudimentary fashion; there’s no artistry in the scene or song transitions. The songs themselves are unmemorable and sound like variations on the same tune. At the show I attended, there were technical sound issues that created a harsh din instead of clear melodies and harmonies which unfortunately made many of the lyrics unintelligible (I actually had to look up a synopsis online after the fact to understand what I had seen). The cast tries hard and I applaud Awkward Stage Productions for selecting an obscure musical, but perhaps there’s a reason why it’s an obscure musical. This experience won’t stop me from seeing future productions from this company, but Lift definitely left me deflated. –MD
Dissection of a Indian Aboriginal First Nation Indigenous Native Full-Blood Status Non-Status Halfbreed Métis Rez Urban Mixed Heritage Woman
Nyla Carpentier is, by her own tally, half French, one quarter Indigenous (Tahltan/Kaska) and one quarter Scottish, which has made her tall, high-cheek-boned, curly haired and racially ambiguous – in other words “the Ultimate Canadian!” In Dissection … of a Mixed Heritage Woman, Carpentier explores her mixed Indigenous and non-Indigenous heritage(s) in story, song, poetry and dance. She speculates, humorously, where she gets various body parts from (her cheekbones are clearly Indigenous, her button nose, French), as well what these labels do and don’t mean to herself as a whole. She shares stories of her forbears on both sides of the Atlantic and traces her lineage through spoken word poetry. Carpentier is an incredibly warm and natural performer blessed with a playful wit (a cleansing movement after a particularly harrowing revelation morphs into “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”) and somehow is able to create intimacy with an entire theatre of strangers. And oh, how she can dance. Carpentier has participated in Pow Wow dancing since she was a little girl and the absolute highlight of the show is when she performs a shawl dance, a sequence of such arresting power, beauty and catharsis that it took my breath away.
Structurally, Dissection … of a Mixed Heritage Woman still feels a bit like a work in progress. There is a great deal of raw (sometimes emotionally raw) material for Carpentier to draw from, but I’m not sure it is organized in a fashion that best serves her purposes. The shawl dance, for example, falls somewhere in the middle of the show, which makes what happens immediately after it seem almost anticlimactic by comparison. Still, like Carpentier herself, the show is greater than the sum of the individual parts and I am very interested in what she does with it next. — MD