Fringe Picks 2016!

6 Jul

Here are a selection of the best shows we’ve seen at the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival so far! Due to the personal time constraints of ArtsVox’s editor, this year’s capsule reviews will be particularly concise in order to be able to post them in a timely manner. It should be noted that the brevity of the reviews themselves is not a reflection of the quality and effort evident in these remarkable shows.

Credit: John Gundy

Credit: John Gundy

Bright Lights
Fringe fixture, prolific hit-machine, and recent Dora Award winner Kat Sandler is back with Bright Lights, an insightful and darkly funny look at the ideas of belief and trust through the lens of a motley support group of alien abduction survivors. In classic Sandler fashion, things aren’t always as they first appear and the mood doesn’t stay copacetic for long. Sandler has assembled an all-star cast including the members of Peter n’ Chris and Morro and Jasp, and Colin Munch; it’s a pleasure to watch them stretch their dramatic legs – especially Peter Carlone whose stern and straight-faced character is such a departure from his usual stage persona. The only caveat is that Sandler has crafted a story with multiple and significant character arcs and a 60 minute Fringe slot makes the emotional journeys feel slightly shoe-horned. Here’s hoping for an extended director’s cut.

bizcardPeter Vs. Chris
If you haven’t seen a Peter n’ Chris show yet – what have you been doing with your life? Not enjoying it to the fullest, clearly. This pair have been together for eight years and have evolved into one of the great comedy duos whose instincts and chemistry are impeccable. Rather than offer up another pal-based narrative, the pair play off their status as stalwarts by cranking up the rivalry and offering up a very meta-contest as to which one is funnier. As with most of their shows, the lines between improv and scripted material, and performer and audience are blurred to remarkable effect. Kudos to them for continuing to stay fresh, innovative, and just as funny as ever.

Credit: Dahlia Katz

Credit: Dahlia Katz

Cam Baby
This ‘Best New Play Winner’ from indie darling Jessica Moss uses a very 21st century premise – that of an Airbnb apartment secretly rigged with hidden cameras to broadcast the intimate moments of the women who rent the rooms – to put the modern concepts of intimacy, privacy, and the sharing of information under the microscope. Despite the ostensibly salacious premise, the work – smartly and energetically directed by Charlotte Gowdy – is full of heart and manages to navigate the subject matter’s grey areas thoughtfully. Ashley Botting, who many will remember from her time as a Second City mainstage player – gives a standout performance as Clara, one of the women under surveillance; easily vacillating between convincing vulnerability and strength. Beau Dixon is also memorable for his turn as Ezra, an intimidating and socially awkward suitor who embodies the role of our digital society’s “invisible man”.

Credit: Hayley Andoff

Credit: Hayley Andoff

Everything Else is Sold Out
Sketch troupe Dame Judy Dench, who had a sleeper hit with last year’s That’s Just Five Kids in a Trench Coat, return with another smart and quirky revue, this one directed by Paul Bates. There’s a well-balanced blend of conventional comedy (like a modern take on the Witches of MacBeth) and odd-ball comedy (like a bit about a swinging bachelor with terrible taste in music who is definitely not a vampire) which makes for a an engaging and very funny 60 minutes. Often what elevates their best scenes from good to great are little surreal touches that aren’t central to the premise but makes their fictional world just that much more vivid.

Credit: Sharon Murray

Credit: Sharon Murray

Wasteland
Remember what we said about Peter ‘n Chris and not enjoying life to the fullest? Same applies to Sex-T-Rex. This remarkable physical theatre / comedy troupe have established themselves as the purveyors of must-see spectacles that wow and elicit big laughs in equal measure. Their latest offering, Wasteland, is no exception – skewering the post-apocalyptic genre figuratively and an endless stream of baddies more literally. As with all their shows, they are able to paint vivid and epic scenes using nothing more than hardware store scraps and artfully homemade costumes. Oh, and their soundtrack is pretty damn sweet too.

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