There is no argument that the London Fringe Festival is London’s biggest week in theatre every year. Though remember- London’s theatre scene is active all year round. The first London Fringe Festival was in 2000. I was at the first one. I started Fringing when I was five years old, and have never missed a festival. It is remarkable to look back to the roots of London’s Fringe and realize how much it has grown. What I also find remarkable is that the spirit and atmosphere of the festival feels relatively the same as the first one. There is a sense of celebration in the air. There is adventure in the delight of being able to dash around the downtown seeing as many plays as you can.
Variety is the spice of the Fringe – but some theatre-goers like to find plays that complement each other. For such a theatrical palette, I have compiled a Fringe “sommelier guide” of plays that might go nicely together.
London Fringe always has a number of history plays on the bill, which is unusual in the Fringe circuit. Do not for a moment think that means you are getting something dusty and bland. A Fringe history play tends to highlight events that the history books have forgotten. This year we have two such plays. First is Jason Rip’s Mr. Richardson Was Jesse James, which is a play about a summer that Jesse James may have spent in Princeton, Ontario. It might be legend, it might be true. The cast is headed up by Chris McAuley as Jesse James. McAuley last year did a wonderful job playing Chet Baker in Last Blast. The second history play is by Aimee Adler, who was profiled in the last Yodeller, performing her new solo show Madame Curie about French physicist Marie Curie.
The Spalding Gray Connection
The late great Spalding Gray, in my opinion, revolutionized the solo theatrical monologue. Gray created monologues about his personal life – all put across with a huge dose of wit. His work is synonymous with New York indie theatre. So it should come as no surprise that you can spot the Spalding influence at any Fringe Festival – a theatre circuit that features a good number of solo works. If you have a hankering for that ever delicious mix of humour, biography and a tad of anxiety in a solo show, may I point out these choices? We are wonderfully lucky that London Fringe has a long relationship with several of New York’s top solo theatre artists. Two of my favourites are Martin Dockery and Bob Brader. Some sort of petition needs to be started to get Dockery to make another London stop. But we are lucky to have Brader in London this year with his new play Smoker, which is on the top of my must-see list. It is a play about Brader’s love affair with smoking and trying to quit.
Also we have Brader’s wife and director Suzanne Bachner’s new play The Good Adoptee. Bachner and Brader are a Fringe power couple, bringing us such great works as Circle, Spitting in the Face of the Devil and Preparation Hex. The Good Adoptee is about Suzanne’s search for her birth parents and the bureaucratic road blocks she must fight.
Another show that will contain great storytelling is A Minor Midcareer Retrospective by James Judd. Judd draws heavily from his personal life to create funny, entertaining and somewhat poignant monologues. Judd most recently was in London in 2014 with Killer Quack – a story about a plastic surgeon who is caught for malpractice. This time around Judd will be performing three different stories in his 60 minute play. These are stories from past hit shows. What makes this show unique is that for every performance, Judd will pick a different mix of stories and announce the lineup that day.
On the Canadian side of things is London’s own Passionfool Theatre’s production of Here Lies Henryby great Canadian, Nova Scotia-born, playwright Daniel MacIvor. This play is performed by Justin Quenelle who has a great track record with MacIvor’s solo works including House and Monster. MacIvor’s own writing is heavily inspired by Gray’s work – in fact his newest play is called Who Killed Spalding Gray (on at Canadian Stage this December).
Puppets a Plenty
Puppet plays have started making an appearance in the Fringe in recent years. This year there are two, both at the McManus Studio. Both are perfect for all ages. The Geography of Hope is a table top, Banraku style puppet show. It has been created by London theatre maker and educator Kim Stark. The story is an odyssey of a girl trying to recapture her ability to have hope, generosity and spontaneity.
After last year’s hit crow-themed play Caws & Effect, Vancouver based Mind of Snail are back with a new shadow puppet play Curious Contagious. This new show is about viruses! The puppeteers Chloé Ziner and Jessica Gabriel use several different light sources, including two overhead projectors, to create beautiful shadow puppetry. The puppets are painted transparencies. The overheads of your high school days just got way cooler when you see what they can do with them.
Some Night Music
This year at the Fringe’s smallest venue, The Bank, just down the street from the Palace, there are several solo music pieces being performed. Two that jump out to me are both one-woman showsthat are personal and intimate – but in very different ways.
The first musical play is Shirley Gnome: Real Mature. Shirley Gnome is a comedian and singer songwriter. Her music, and this show, is about sex. Her work has been described as frank, funny and insightful. It is certainly not a PG show – but it looks to be the kind of the edgy experience you expect at the Fringe. Her music is a country/folk style.
Lara Loves Lightfoot is described as a “storied concert”- part one-woman show and part cabaret. The show is created and performed by Stratford singer/songwriter Lara MacMillan. The show tells the story of the year she spent in Banff when she was 19, interspersed with selections of Gordon Lightfoot songs that she performs.
The Bard Platter
Shakespeare always manages to find his way into a Fringe. This year there is Breakneck Hamlet performed by Chicago actor Tim Mooney. He very, very quickly gives the audience a “recklessly sliced” fifty-nine minute, fifty-nine second version of Hamlet. There is also the Fringe classic Teaching Shakespeare which has been touring since 1999. The play, performed by Keir Cutler, is a parody of a college English class.
These are just some of the samplings on offer. Take in this fine theatre feast in all its glory and embark on your very own Fringe adventure.
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