Having Literary Fun on Day Five of the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival

A break will soon be coming as I have done two shows a day since the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival has started. Even fans of experimental theatre needs to rest before embarking on another round and I’m really looking forward to seeing Wes Borg‘s Get Me The F*CK out of Edmonton and St Michael’s University School’s Musical Theatre show Drowsy Chaperone at the end of the week.

Though for Monday night, I had to satisfy the literary nerd in me. FUNNER from Sunday night was just too unusual, and I needed a proper Shakespeare Fix, to which yesterday’s two shows fully succeeded in entertaining. The day also made me feel like I visited the worlds of several master storytellers than one:

Olive Longbottom: A New Musical by Charles Dickens and Penny Ashton Sings and Swings
Olive Copperbottom: A New Musical by Charles Dickens and Penny Ashton

Metro Studio
(1411 Quadra)

Aug 30 – 8:45pm
Aug 31 – 9:30pm
Sept 2 – 6:30pm
Sept 3 – 3:15pm

Passes available through Ticket Rocket

Kiwi sensation Penny Ashton is certainly a tour-de-force when she has to handle many characters in her one-person play Olive Copperbottom. Not only does she play this title character but also lil’ Timmy TIdbet, Mrs. Sourtart, Edward Goodsol, Ivana B. Castalot and Maximilian Moneybags — just to name a few. To keep track of which persona she is in requires that character to have a telling feature, whether that’s with her accent or size, and I was able to follow along, even when the act gets manic. That is, when she is fighting herself as two opponents having a row.

The story is relatively simple: It’s about the life of Olive inheriting a locket from her mother which can help identify and find her father. In the Victorian Age of London, orphans had a tough time of making a life for themselves. For some reason, I was reminded of Les Misérables and the trials and tribulations Cosette faced. This work is from Victor Hugo, not Charles Dickens to which this play makes many a reference to. Although Pickwick Papers may have been excluded, I would not have noticed! references to other Victorian-age works were also made, and to point them out would have meant having a remote control to pause Ashton’s performance, rewind and play again.

The highlight is when she sings a variety of shanties. I was humming along to most of them. To hear her adapt “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg is nothing but amazing. She overlays her own lyrics to this familiar tune, and it works. Also heard was Chopin. I can easily see this show as one of the top picks of the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival. The only two things going against it are the modern references (like to Trump) which destroys the illusion of watching a period story and the 75 minute run time. Not only can it benefit this performer so she can catch her breath, but for audiences, we can process all that has gone on (story-wise) and stretch our legs.

4 Blokes out of 5

How Not to Deal With the Devil Within LEER.

Metro Studio
(1411 Quadra)

Sept 2 – 3:45pm
Sept 3 – 1:00pm

Passes available through Ticket Rocket

LEER is a unique work debuting at the Victoria Fringe Festival. Sadly, according to an interview on Janis La Couvée’s website, it will not be touring. The reason is that to move the major pieces of props around will be very costly. To crate Satan’s throne and transport it around might have producers wishing it can curse those who attempt to destroy it. Sadly, this item is no Ark of the Covenant.

The details put on this important set piece is worth examining up close. It helps set the stage for what this play is about: who gets to rule three divisions from one of the Nine Circles of Hell? When considering how the devil seems trapped and unable to move freely about all the realms, I sense there’s more to this world than watching a retelling of King Leer by Shakespeare.

Added wrappings include references to Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno. Satan is reorganizing Hell and I get the sense playwright David Elendune (he penned versions of Winnie the Pooh and Casino Royale to play at the Victoria Fringe Festival) really wanted to define the realms in far greater detail than in what a Fringe show can allow.

The sound design is contemporary (heavy metal and all the modern tropes to define the devil’s music was used) and the use of mise en scène is terrific. Had fog machines and other stage tricks been included, the illusion of watching a nightmare unfold would have been fully complete. A appearance of the three witches from Macbeth was a bit odd. While I understood their purpose, I hoped a different force (older than God or the Devil) was at work, tailoring the fate of Satan (Wendy Magahay) as she slowly succumbs to madness (as in the original tale). When they appeared wearing masks befitting of a steampunk world, I wondered if The Sandman from DC Comic’s Vertigo line might appear.

Beelzebub (Amber Landry), Asmodeus (Wendy Cornack) and Lilith (Ellen Law) are the characters in this work. They replace Goneril, Regan and Cordelia in the Bard’s version. While occultists may question these demon’s traditional roles versus what they have become in this play’s design, I had no trouble accepting them in a story that may well have allusions to roles women find themselves typically trapped in and yearn to escape from. Asomdeus is strangely pregnant and Lilith very docile. As the sisters fight for acceptance from their mother, the Queen of Hell, the loyal servant Belphegor (Leanne Allen) shows how playing favourites can get somewhere.

One of the lines which I loved hearing, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” gave me a gentle shiver. To see Satan’s daughters behave more concerned for themselves than in what they are getting reminded me of Dante’s work. Like the Uncommitted, I wonder if Elendune is looking to impress upon audiences a deeper meaning to his product. This play is worth seeing again to understand the story further. With a few shows remaining during the Victoria Fringe, not everyone will get a chance to see it. Let’s hope an encore performance is being planned.

4 Blokes out of 5


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