Vancouver Fringe Festival 2012: Part I

Vancouver Fringe Festival 2012: Day One:

It's September and in Vancouver that means it is Fringe Festival Time. With a plethora of performances  on and around Granville Island, off-island theatres such as the Firehall, The Cultch and other venues like the CBC Studio or the  Waldorf Hotel, there is no shortage of choice whether your taste runs to comedy, drama or musical reviews. Check out the shows and events at the 2012 Vancouver Fringe Festival Guide and get on down to see some excellent performers, for the  cost of a Fringe Membership ($5.00) and ticket prices of $10 or $12 per show.

With so many shows to see, I (GL) decided that a tag-team approach was needed so I co-opted guest reviewer Amanda Lockitch (ARL). Hopefully we will have divergent views of some of the pieces we see and that will engender some debate and discussion.

The first Fringe day was bright and sunny, and the waters of False Creek were a glorious shade of blue as we waited for one of the little ferry boats to take us across to Granville Island. First stop was the Box Office located next to the Waterfront Theatre. There we picked up our previously booked tickets for all shows except the first one we were due to see.  If you are picking up tickets for a show that is  starting within 4 hours or less though, your tickets will be at the actual show venue and can be obtained 45 minutes before show time. Advance tickets can be bought at the Box Office. Day-of-show tickets can be bought at the venue 45 minutes before the show starts - for cash only.

For our first day of "fringeing" we picked three shows at the Revue Theatre.

1.) More Power to Your Knitting, Nell! by Melanie Gall

2.) The Abyss Burrow by Vanessa Quesnelle

3.) Ne me Quitte Pas by Melanie Gall and Bremner Duthie.

See Vancouver Fringe Festival 2012. Part II for review by Jo Ledingham of:

Underbelly

See Vancouver Fringe Festival 2012 Part III for reviews of:

Alpha      Breaking Velocity    Grey Matter

See Vancouver Fringe Festival  Part IV for reviews of:

Gadfly    Till Death Do We Part    Romance

See Vancouver Fringe Festival Part V for Reviews by ARL of

10) Home Free

11) God is a Scottish Drag Queen

While I intend to see as random and broad a variety of shows as possible, I must confess that my choice of the first day's shows was not random. In the 2011 Vancouver Fringe Festival I saw Melanie Gall performing Piaf songs in The Sparrow and The Mouse and Bremner Duthie in Whisky Bars and thought both shows were outstanding.  So when I saw that they had got together to perform songs of Piaf and Jacques Brel, this was the first pick for my viewing list.

More Power to Your Knitting, Nell ! (running time 60 minutes)

Created and performed by Melanie Gall.
Piano tracks: Erin Craig and Chris Leavy.
Venue: The Revue Stage, 1601 Johnston Street (Opposite the Arts Club Granville Island Stage
Still to come:
Sun, Sep 9: 5:30
Tue, Sep 11, 7:45
Wed, Sep 12, 5:00
Sat, Sep 15, 9:00
Sun, Sep 16, 5:25

Singer Melanie Gall brings to light the little known genre of songs devoted to the act of knitting. While that may sound like a yarn you’d rather not untie, Gall’s thoughtful story convinced me of the importance of these songs. “I wonder Who’s Knitting For Me” and “Soldier Soldier, Dear Unknown” gives voice to an otherwise almost forgotten history. “Mama’s Sitting knitting Little Mittens for the Navy” and “Listen to the Knocking at the Knitting Club” are feisty and funny. Gall’s bilingual rendition of “Autumn Leaves” as the show stopper gave me goose bumps.

The conceit of the play is that these songs were used to inspire the American “women soldiers” who supported the war effort by knitting warm items to send to their loved ones overseas. While the knitting songs mostly come from WWI, Gall sets the play during WWII. 

The narrative passes through two years in the life of Sadie Goldstein as she becomes the voice of “Knitting Nell” on the radio singing to the troops and the women at home. Her journey takes her from being a young woman who initially hated to knit – but needed a job and could sing – to an impassioned fiancé flying to France to be with her injured soldier. When Goldstein talks to us about her life from her position within our “knitting club” Gall does a great job of interacting with the audience. She is very present as a performer and is clearly at ease with requesting her audience play along with her. There is a lot of humour in this production, but Gall also hits honest notes of tragedy such as when she sings “We’ll Meet Again” made famous by Vera Lynn.

The set consists of a standing microphone on one side of the stage and a cozy knitting corner on the other and that’s all Gall needs (in fact, she doesn’t even “need” the microphone as she is heard at other times without it, but it does add to the story and helps indicate a time period). The show is really about Gall’s massive singing talent. She easily glides up and down her register and moves from full on belting to moments of intimacy. As I left this show, I could hardly wait to hear her sing Piaf in a few hours. (ARL)

Gill's View. If you are a knitter, bring along your needles and yarn. Gall is great at audience interaction and managed to get three volunteers, including the lady next to me, knitting away in her "knitting circle".  I  also had no idea that there were so many songs about knitting so it was fascinating to hear this selection, woven into a story with a war time romance. The knitting songs were not particularly melodious, memorable or clever, though I really enjoyed "Listen to the Knocking at the Knitting Club". This  is a novel vehicle for showing off Gall's prodigious singing talents. And just to hear her sing the two so-familiar songs of  "Autumn Leaves" and "We'll Meet Again" is worth the price of admission! (GL)

The Abyss Burrow (running time 45 mins)

Written and performed by Vanessa Quesnelle
Venue: The Revue Stage, 1601 Johnston Street (Opposite the Arts Club Granville Island Stage
Still to come:
Sat, Sep 8: 8:20
Tue, Sep 11, 5:30
Thu, Sep 13, 10:20
Fri, Sep 14, 6:45
Sun, Sep 16, 2:10

This intriguing piece of dance-theatre by Vanessa Quesnelle is so ambiguous that it left me trying to puzzle it out late into the night. It’s hard to talk about the story without spoilers, so this is your alert, although it comes with the caveat that this may not actually be what the play is about at all. Essentially Quesnelle moves between dance and a series of memory scenes.  To whom these memories actually belong and what they mean is never explicitly stated leaving the audience to attach their own meaning. 

At first it appears Quesnelle is at the bottom of a dungeon-like pit a la Silence of the Lambs, supported by the sound of dripping water and a murky blue top light. She runs her fingers along the circle of her enclosure and picks a spot with her palm – like a knot in a tree calling to her – gently opening a hole in the space in order to wriggle through. As she moves into the substance of memories (brain matter?) quirky, often industrial music plays, and her accompanying physical isolations and dance sequences provide the link in the story between the present neutrality of the pit and the flashbacks.

Quesnelle deals very well with the trickiest part of a solo act: speaking and responding to another character that is not embodied. Her acting is entirely believable and engaging. The scenes include her admitting to her partner that she has been cheating, visiting her grandmother, and watching Batman with her brother as a child. In many of these sequences, the idea that pulls her out of the memory is that the memory has been changed: she visited her grandmother in the summer, not the spring, her brother never owned a skateboard, and it did not rain on the day she rode her dusty bike across town. Rather, these changes herald the memory that has not been visited yet, the one in which she is driving in the rain and suddenly sees a child on a skateboard in front of her car. Does this play take place in the moment that the woman blacks out from the accident? Has she been in a coma for a long time? Does she wake up? I think with some very small tweaking the play can answer a few of its uncertain elements and therefore give the audience a greater sense of satisfaction in terms of understanding the plot.

I’d like to see this show again with minor tweaks and proper dance side lighting so that we can really see Quesnelle’s range of movement. (ARL)

Gill's View: I found this a completely engrossing piece of theatre despite the fact that I was somewhat lost with respect to the story.  I agree with ARL's description of "ambiguous" - I left the theatre with many questions. But the physicality of the piece was beautiful. in my dance life, I am working hard on training my very mature body in isolation movements of the kind that come a lot easier with the flexibility of youth, so I was especially fascinated by Quesnelle's sinuous and supple movement.  There were too many moments however when she was hardly visible because of the lighting.

This is a piece that I would also like to see again. (GL)

Ne me Quitte Pas: Piaf and Brel, the Impossible Concert (running time 60 mins)

Created and performed by Melanie Gall and Bremner Duthie.
Piano tracks: Erin Craig and Chris Leavy.
Venue: The Revue Stage, 1601 Johnston Street (Opposite the Arts Club Granville Island Stage
Still to come:
Sat, Sep 8: 1:25
Sun, Sep 9: 9:00
Thu, Sep 13, 6:50
Sat, Sep 15, 5:30
Sun, Sep 16, 3:40

This show features two dynamic signers and their love for the musical icons, Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel. Melanie Gall and Bremner Duthie relate how the music of Piaf and Brel inspired their careers as they give us their top ten picks of the two artists’ work in a tribute to those “crazy French love songs”.  By providing a context that ties their own lives to music, specifically that of Piaf and Brel, we learn a little about the musical development of Gall and Duthie (she came first place in the Kiwanis Festival from grades 1-6, and his mother used to time his lunches perfectly because she could hear him coming as he sang blocks away from home) and a little about Piaf and Brel (she literally sang on the streets for her supper; and the fight between his wife and his mistress for the right to place his burial plaque is still in the courts today despite Brel’s death in 1978).

Anecdotes about Gall’s teachers telling her that Piaf was not suitable material for a showcase and Duthie’s “Tree-o” of caroling, and the funny and often barbed banter between the two performers link the songs. We learn that while donuts at the Arts Club Theatre brought Duthie to the music of Brel, for Gall and Piaf, it was a big hunk of beef in Trinidad, where, mirroring her icon, Gall literally sang for her supper.

Gall is herself in this show, and without having to put on a character as in Knitting Nell, she seems more relaxed and loose on stage.

The addition of a narrative context related both singers to their icons and made the choice of songs more accessible. It afforded us the opportunity to really see why Gall and Duthie were attracted to these particular artists and how that passion has shaped them.  

For those for whom French is not a conversational tongue, some songs were bilingual, but with such powerful songs sung so beautifully, it is not necessary to understand the words to feel the pathos and humour of what makes them live on.

In the end the performers diverge from their heroes. Gall speaks about the community of the touring Fringe and the “family” she has found among others who come together for the music, while Piaf and Brel died young from hard lives in that strange isolation of the very famous.  Yet their music, and the performance of it by Gall and Duthie, reminds us to make big choices in life. (ARL)

Gill's View: The same Vancouver Arts Club production of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, that inspired Bremner Duthie's passion for the music of Jacques Brel, also introduced my family to his work. The show LP record played frequently in our house and I have mental images of my husband whirling my daughter around - yes that ARL - to Brel's song Carousel. There were many outstanding songs on that record, and I liked the contrasting choices that Bremner picked for this show. His rendering of the down- and-dirty "Amsterdam" and the anguished "Marieke" were both stunning.

Gall's Piaf songs were equally well performed and the duet, "Ne me Quitte Pas" was exquisite.

Duthie and Gall are two outstanding performers at the top of their game, and I loved this blending of their work. This 60 minute show left me wanting more, more, more! I thought that a little less banter could make room for more music but as another audience member mentioned, he knew little about either Piaf or Brel, and really enjoyed hearing about their backgrounds and how they inspired our two performers.

This definitely ranks as one of my "don't miss" shows.  Oh and Duthie also has another show  this year called "Hard Times." I hope to check it out.  (GL)

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