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Chris Doty, Theatre in London
A limited-time feature for the 2004 London Fringe Theatre Festival

chris at the grandChristopher Doty, your obedient web master, is currently off to the London Fringe Festival to check out the theatre scene and review copius amounts of shows for the London Free Press. However, the paper can't print everything he writes, which is why Chris has introduced this web page on all that's good, bad and weird at the 2004 Fringe.

Chris' goal is simple: to see and review all 36 shows. Sound impossible? Probably, but you never can tell what a little gumption can do. Keep checking back between July 30th and August 8th for new daily reviews!

Day Ten of the Fringe
30 out of 36 shows seen and reviewed
My sincere apologies to the following shows which I was unable to see:
The Superbowl & Other Stories, The Thom & Dan Show, Rusty Spurs,
African Woman, Sexylass and Down From Here

***** a life-changing experience
**** no epiphany, but still a damned good show
*** better than dinner theatre
** at least the actors memorized their lines
* take your ticket money and flush it down the toilet instead
Quotations from all reviews should be credited:
"Doty Docs e-reviews"

Praise for Mr. Doty's reviews:

"I must protest Chris Doty's negative review of Tremor in the London Free Press. I found it rivetting, and certainly no one in the audience was dozing the night I was there...And of course you have blackouts to indicate a new scene - why does Doty have a problem with that? I you heven't seen this show, ignore Doty's unimaginative review, and GO!"

I have no problem with blackouts - unless they take up half the running time of the play. - CD

"Went to the Wolf to enjoy "No More Than 15 Minutes" ... I think Mr. Doty should shed his regional bias, quest for perfection and realize that the future of theatre will come from students who are still learning their craft. You can't buy experience, you have to live it. Bravo to the cast...hiss for Mr. Doty. A little constructive criticism with a measure of encouragement would go a long way....let's not eat our young."

And you also have to live with bad reviews. Take a spoonful of "Get Over It." - CD

"What kind of chip do you have on your shoulder about Chris (Welcome to the Collapse) Loblaw? I do not think that Fringe reviews are a forum for such personal attacks. If you do not like the play, say so. There is no reason to be cruel...I'm not too sure what your qualifications as a reviewer are (I would love to know), but you seem to disagree with other theatre reviewers in town. There is a growing sense in this community that a review by Chris Doty is meaningless at best and hurtful at worst."

To quote one of my favourite films, Theater of Blood: "When you're forced to give someone bad notices all the time you begin to resent them." - CD

" I think you've gone nuts. Have you gone manic-depressive as a reviewer?"

Depends if I've taken my paxil. - CD

Interested in having your show considered for a Brickenden Award?
It's London's own version of the Tonys and it will only cost you a small handful of complimentary tickets!

Click here if you would like to participate
Click here if you would like to know more about the Brickendens

The "O" Show *****
Screamingly funny show about one woman's inability to achieve orgasm is one of the must-see performances at this year's Fringe - even though the story lacks a climax. Bravura showcase for actor/writer Caitlin Murphy is a companion piece to last year's Fringe hit, Ladies Room but manages to inject the comedy with some pointed comments about sex, relationships and how absurd they all can be. The result is very Caitlin Murphy, very unique and very wonderful.

Imitations *****
A middle-aged actor attempts to workshop a recurring dream into a play, only to be consummed by his own nightmare. Justin Peter Quesnelle is simply spellbinding as he weaves this tale from scattered manuscript pages strewn across the floor while Jordon Morris' courageous direction refuses to allow reality and theatre to separate for the audience. Not for everyone but, for those willing to tackle something different and difficult, an unforgettable experience. Highly recommended.

My Brother Sang Like Roy Orbison *****
Big-hearted story of a teenager's relationship with his estranged step-brother and how they grow to be friends, drift apart and then come back together. What could have been treacly mush is turned into a genuinely moving tale by performer Randy Rutherford who eschews funny voices and broad physical comedy in favor of dialogue, character and nuance. Funny, human and unforgettable, any empty seats at this performance are a tragedy.

The Complications of an Average Existence ****
Belying the fact this is her first run with the show, solo performer Justina Szecsi presents us with three memorable performances of a trio of women whose regrets have almost taken the place of their dreams. While some of the show's targets are obvious and the odd scene ends too patly, The Complications of an Average Existence never ceases to deftly straddle the line between comedy and drama.

The show's biggest asset is Szecsi who displays a remarkable ability to physically morph from character to character. The result is a funny, touching and poignant work that realizes its theatrical birth free from complications.

For the complete review, see the August 4th edition of the London Free Press

Getting Married ****
In a charming example of art imitating life, Jonathan De Souza and Heather Brandon have used their wedding engagement as the basis for an original musical review -- Getting Married -- starring themselves. In the musical, at the London Fringe Theatre Festival, the two actors play three couples who journey from proposal to marriage.

De Souza and Brandon are engagingly at ease with each other, the latter presenting a gorgeous singing voice, which does full justice to the acoustics of the Wolf Performance Hall and to her future husband's clever lyrics.

Original musicals are a rare bird for London audiences. Fortunately, Getting Married is also a rare treat.

For the complete review, see the August 5th edition of the London Free Press

Sea Watching (b) ****
Probably the best of the four dance shows at this year's Fringe - which is saying quite a lot. Virtuoso performer Mari Osanai shimmers, endulates and splashes her body like a pool of mercury through a breathtaking dance routine. She doesn't so much dance to the soundtrack of environmental sounds and electronic music as channel them through her. An intensely creative show that will either delight or confuse you - but you'll never be able to forget it.

Steel ****
In this dynamic one-man show, Andrew Zadel offers portraits of three men drawn together by steel rails and wooden ties.
As both an actor and an athlete, Zadel uses every muscle in his body to unfold the plot, whether it's hauling himself up the balcony of the Spriet Family Theatre or tumbling across the stage. In a scene that's almost unwatchable, Zadel proves as mesmerizing as a car crash when one character is fatally injured in a railway accident.

Steel, one character explains, is tough because it bends under extreme pressure without failing. The same could be said of this production and Zadel's masterful performance.

For the complete review, see the August 6th edition of the London Free Press

The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) ***1/2
Decidedly not the dry, boring, vomit-free version of Shakespeare. All 37 of the Bard's plays are chopped, sliced and pureed in this irreverent (and rather funny) review by Simply Theatre. A perpetual favorite with London audiences, it remains the troop's best show. Dale Hirlehey directs like a kid blowing up a balloon. He's constantly trying to coax bigger and more outrageous gags out of the script with his two colleagues (Jim Noonan and Neil Silcox) until the whole enterprise threatens to blow to smithereens - which it eventually does to memorable effect.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Clowns ***1/2
This is a hard show to recommend, as your enjoyment will hinge on how much you enjoy Stoppard's ingenious but densely written farce about two minor characters in the play Hamlet. In this adaptation, Bronwyn Glover's simpering Stan Laurel-like Rosencrantz is the perfect foil for Catrina Whan's more assertive but no more intelligent Guildenstern.

With exaggerated body language, deft physical humour and a smattering of 1970s dancing, Whan and Glover make this play their own. The duo do such a intuitive job punctuating the text with their body movements that it's hard to believe Stoppard didn't have red noses and short-cut pants in mind for his actors.

For the complete review, see the August 5th edition of the London Free Press

Sera Sera ***1/2
Koyaanisqatsi meets ballet meets Kukla, Fran and Ollie. Physically remarkable show throws in dance, acrobatics and puppetry to tell the story of love, life and chocolate - if you're following things that closely. Best to sit back and enjoy the marvel of Frank Turco and Esther Haddad as they transcend the laws gravity and physicality to the tunes of The Ants Go Marching One, Besa Me Mucho and, of course, Que Sera Sera. What is great, is great...

Shovels and Sacks ***1/2
Youthful, energetic tribute to Commedia Dell 'Arte offers up a big cast, colourful costumes and a booming narrator. The story about two servants trying to arrange for the happy marriage of their master's daughters is quickly thrown out the window for series of uproarious sight gags, prat falls and lightning-fast exits. Don't blink or you'll miss a laugh.

Coming Out ***
One-joke play (although it's a great joke) about on a squeaky-clean suburban family who discovers their teenaged son is a (gulp!) Negro. Funny, biting script is somewhat undercut by flat performances - although Matt McKenzie is hilarious as the button-down dad who represses his emotions about as well as his drinking problem. A flawed stone, but Coming Out is still a little gem. One of the best shows I saw at the London One-Act Festival and deserving of a return engagement at the Fringe.

The Adventures of Ron Starr, L.A. D.J. ***
Drawing on elements from the Fisher King, Talk Radio and the entire 1980s music scene, The Adventures of Ron Starr tells the alternately hilarious and depressing tale of Starr (Grant Doty), a rising Los Angeles radio host who blows his shot at the big time and ends up working the graveyard shift on a light rock station.

Matt Loop's meaty script is well-marbled with 1980s pop culture and exudes a manic energy that carries it from start to finish. Under the assured hands of director John Pacheco, the show is fast-paced, funny and gritty. Ron Starr barely gives Doty or its audience a chance to gasp for air. The result is a wonderfully entertaining one-man ride down the radio dial.

Deserving Treats ***
Like whipped cream on hot chocolate, this 20-minute comedy about a woman's inner thoughts as she sits at a coffee bar is gone before you've really had a chance to savour the show. Writer/performer Natasha MacLellan is funny, insecure and completely believable in this entertaining one woman effort that's peppered with lines you'll be quoting for days. (My favourite: "This doesn't taste like an orgasm anymore. It just tastes like sex.") Plays like an excerpt from a larger play, which I hope we'll get a chance to see some day.

der-I've ***
Like its title, this play is a real puzzle. Crosswords, overlapping dialogue, cryptic scene changes and a clock that tells arbitrary time contribute to this offbeat and decided nonlinear story about a family suffering through marital infidelity, an ailing mother and a sister afraid to get behind the wheel of a car (der-ive, get it?). Solidly acted and directed with split-second precision but Steph Bernston's script isn't quite clever enough to reveal this is a pretty average storyline - and a dull one at that.

Don't You Make My Brown Eyes Blue ***
Attitude reigns supreme in this in-your-face mixture of slam poetry and stand-up comedy by Halifax native Taryn Della. Some thoughtful observations on being a black woman in Canada with verse awkwardly tacked on but Della is really is the whole show here. The rest is just gravy. Takes the place of Father's Day in your program in case you want to go. I hope you do or Taryn will kick your ass.

It's Funny to Us! ***
And it's sort of funny to me. If we had to have a smorgasbord of tasteless sketch comedy at this year's Fringe we might as well have this show. Fart jokes, necrophilia and Superman the Musical are all crammed into this fast-paced and energetic effort. Performed by an equal number of men and women which may explain why it's less sophomoric (but no less hilarious) than similarily-styled Channel Surfing, which director/performer John Pacheco has helmed at the Fringe. A must-see for those looking for a steady supply of laughs.

Keep Your Eyes Open When You Kiss ***
The Janus Theatre of Chicago gives us a Brave New World style fable about two men and two women, brought up in isolation, who are introduced to each other - and sex - for the first time. Staging and acting are irresistably flamboyant and that interpretive dance that kicks off the show will knock your socks off. However, all the play argues is that women are vain and selfish and men have more testosterone than brains. And just how did those Shakespearean sonnets get into the mix?

Man & Woman ***
A most curious play. A stock broker is forced to take dance lessons. He falls in love with the instructor, they marry and have a child. Terrific first half beautifully fuses dances with overlapping dialogue that mirrors the chemistry between the two leads. Then the show goes off the rails with a bizarre storyline about a global pandemic and the need to find clean blood. Still, a worthwhile and entertaining effort - provided you don't get whiplash when the plot does a pirouette.

The Unstoppable Bloodiness of a Broken Heart ***
Despite that cheerful title, this is a disarming and free-flowing saga of a white and red blood corpuscle as they make their way through the human body during surgery. Vain, high-maintenance red relies on well-meaning, infatuated white as they journey (often hilariously) through the brain, heart and, yes, the penis. No plot, no morals, no high school anatomy lesson here - just lots of amusing physical humour and bizarre dialogue with little regard for the confines of the stage.

Death, The Comedy **1/2
Michael Strombie wakes up dead one morning and has to relly on his girlfriend to make all the necessary arrangements. Local playwright/performer Dustin Campbell returns to the Fringe with perhaps his best show although as an actor he's still to passive to put the material across. His co-star, Alexis McDonald, fares better as the girlfriend, turning in a credible performance that belies the fantastic nature of the story. Modest, quirky comedy is not without its charms and has a sweetness that's rare at this year's Fringe.

The Merchant of Venice **1/2
Precocious, street-clothes version of the Shakespearean comedy makes an uneasy debut with its eagre but inexperienced actors. Phil Arnold is the best thing in the production with his juicy performance as Shylock, though his performance is in sharp contrast with his younger, less-experienced colleagues. You also end up feeling sorry for the Jewish money lender, undermining the whole comedy. The third and certainly the least impressive Shakespearean offering at this year's Fringe.

Exit This Way **1/2
Denis Couillard is commanding and dynamic in this one-man show about a gay actor relating his life story while auditioning for television pilot. The work bristles with sharp dialogue and excellent pacing - until we get to that abrupt and unexpected ending. A bit of a let-down, Exit This Way plays like half of a great play - which is why I'm giving it half the rating it probably deserves.

Losing Berlin **1/2
Ambitious, meticulously-designed show about a woman's struggle to save Jewish children in Nazi Germany. Writer/actor Kara Dymond gives it her all in this one-woman effort but her performance is needlessly straightjacketed by a forced German accent and overly complicated staging (which indirectly led to a painful-looking fall on opening night). An earnest, well-researched show about something we have no right to forget about - but Losing Berlin should have been so much better.

The Book Club **
With more plot developments and dirty secrets than a year's worth of soap operas, The Book Club asks its audience to believe its characters would spill out the intimate details of their lives like so many subplots from a romance novel.
Hidden love affairs, long-forgotten marital separations and deadly illnesses - any one of which would have provided ample story fodder - are brought up and then cast aside as if the playwright suddenly became bored with them.

Playwright Lucy Williams fares much better as an actor than as a writer, building on the fine work she presented in previous Fringe hits like The Great Escape and Grace. Ditto for the rest of the cast, who present warm, human characters under Anne Mooney's caring, assured direction.

Robin Rundle Drake as Janice offers a stand out moment when her character reveals she has breast cancer. It's a memorable, emotionally-charged scene that hints at the direction The Book Club should have taken. But then the script shrugs off her plight in order to cruise to a happy - and unsatisfactory - ending.

For the complete review, see the August 4th edition of the London Free Press

Gardy Loo **
Komuso, a silent clown, enters the stage and has a fight with himself. He does an acrobatic dance using night lights. He tries to make balloons float to the ceiling but fails. He sets fire to a toy hospital and rescues two sets of paper dolls. He angrily tears one set up. He blows soap bubbles and dances with them. He dances with himself. He holds up a sign reading "Never Again." The audience walks out of the theatre knowing they've seen it all at this year's Fringe.

The Hunt for Treasure **
Two 16-year old boys find a treasure map and go on a hunt in a public park, avoiding muggers and a crazy farmer with a shotgun along the way. Perhaps they should have looked for a better script instead. Limp comedy is given a boost by Byron Laviolette's over-the top performance as Jason, an obnoxious screw-up you can't imagine anyone befriending. However, the character quickly grows tiresome and ends up more annoying than amusing. Go hunt elsewhere for laughs.

Tremor **
This study of a relationship between a troubled artist and his young model deserves praise for attempting to offer up the stage equivalent of an abstract painting - the technique its central character prefers. Scenes are short. Dialogue is sparse. Motives are hinted at but never explained. However, this attack by author Claire McCague makes for a pretty dull experience.

In the hands of two strong leads Tremor might have been an actor's showcase. But as the artist, Paul Myer's strong physical performance is kneecapped by a pinched European dialect while Mark Dittmer as the model seems to have difficulty understanding why he's in this play in the first place.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Tremor is its title. There are no revelations, no climax, no drama and certainly no tremors - unless you're counting the vibrations creating by an audience snoring en masse.

For the complete review, see the August 4th edition of the London Free Press

Welcome to the Collapse *1/2
Welcome to another Chris Loblaw fiasco. Three employees and a light-fingered customer get trapped in a sub shop during the power outage of 2003. While searching for the keys to the front door, the manager gets bonked on the head and dreams he's Sean Connery, Austin Powers and then Zorro. Hopelessly contrived and populated with stupid characters, Welcome to the Collapse shows that playwright Loblaw really hasn't learned much from his last two Fringe efforts. However, with an ear for wonky dialogue and a cockeyed view of comedy there's no denying Loblaw has created a style that's uniquely his own. A cult following lies ahead.

No More Than 15 Minutes *
Lots of yelling, lot of posturing and lots of destruction are the main features of this fuzzy commentary on the fleeting nature of celebrities and how the public's obsession with them is undermining society. Awful production is sunk by poor acting, amateurish staging and atrocious dialogue. Ichthyologists may delight with the live fish that appears on stage at the end of the show. However, to paraphrase lyricist Larry Hart, "When a fish steals your show you have no show."

Click here for reviews of other 2004 productions
Click here for current and upcoming productions
Click here for 2004 London One-Act Festival Reviews
Click here for the Theatre in London Website