We zipped into London early on June 27th in order to actually get to see some shows. Our priority was to see Dying Hard, not only because Mikaela Dyke had taken such good care of us, but because we agreed it actually seemed like the most interesting show in the Fringe. So we had to book all our other shows around that.
The first show we saw was The Burning Man and the Reverend Nuge, which was a one-man show about this fellow’s actual journey from being a crazy Pentecostal Jesus nut and youth minister to a hedonistic, self-destructive anarchist nut, to finally something that, at least for now, seems to make a little more sense. Great, great show. Not Theatrical at all, more like a motivational seminar that you’d hear at a school, so very low key and natural, but so fascinating that we hung on his every word. I regretted that I couldn’t afford to buy his DVD of the show, with the money being so tight, because I wanted my family and friends to see it too.
Then we headed over to the Wolf Theatre to see Mikaela in Dying Hard. Tour-de-fucking-force. A little about the show: it told the true stories of Newfoundland fluorspar miners, most of whom died horribly from diseases caused by working in said mines: silicosis, cancer, etc. Each piece of the show was a monologue, taken verbatim from interviews with the miners themselves, or their wives(originally done for a book with the same title). Mikaela and her team had had access to the original interview tapes as well, which helped them to build these real-life characters.
It was a great show. Imagine Letters From Wingfield Farm, except with depth and meaning and purpose. No, scratch that: that doesn’t cover it. This is a show that I hope will have a life beyond the London Fringe. Mikaela talked to me about touring it to Newfoundland and also industrial towns around Canada. I think it needs a mainstream audience as well. I think that CanStage or one of the big non-profits really needs to put some development money into this and expand it into a full-length piece.
The only disappointment I had with the show was that the house wasn’t full. Monster was playing down the street and pretty much selling out every show, but Mikaela’s audience was only slightly bigger than our biggest houses. While this makes me feel a little bit better about our small houses, it saddens me that more people in London didn’t get to see this. Nothing wrong with Monster, it’s a good show, the actor was super nice backstage, and by all accounts they nailed it… but when I Fringe, I like to primarily see new stuff, and I suppose I expect others to have that bias as well? To me, that’s the point of having super-cheap tickets and so many shows in one place.
(And maybe I’m just rambling because I’m writing this on the airplane home at 14:15, Toronto time, and I’ve had a total of 90 minutes sleep since yesterday (June 27) at 9:00. So sue me.)
After Dying Hard, we proceeded to the next venue (Fanshaw College) to see FRUITCAKE: The Ten Commandments from the Psych Ward written and featuring an English performance poet named Rob Gee. For fourteen years, he had worked as a psychiatric nurse in what I think he referred to as a “dodgy” psychiatric hospital, and for an hour he regaled us with tales of his and his charges’ exploits. A very enjoyable show, to be sure. My one beef was the voice reciting the ten commandments. I’m not sure why it was necessary to have it as a voiceover and why he couldn’t have done itself. But just an absolutely super performance.
Okay, this is all getting a bit generic.
After FRUITCAKE, we went to do our show.
Which went pear-shaped almost immediately. Another very stressful setup, with our house tech disappearing, as was his wont, just when we needed to ask him for his help. But, with his help, we did get things set up on time.
About four scenes in, I just lost it. I totally lost it. I went dry. I lived the Actor’s Nightmare. I had to call to be prompted… and within minutes, I’d screwed up again, jumping us over nearly half the play. Knowing that I could not hope to recover from this and still keep the play making any sense (especially now that the projections were just totally out of sequence), I stopped the show, humbly begged the audience’s forgiveness, and started from just before I’d screwed up.
It was one of the single most humiliating things I’ve ever had to do. And it was absolutely my fault: for this one night, the tech had actually gone perfectly for once. I then rushed through the rest of the show, terrified that we’d run over (we didn’t). The audience was lovely; they were very understanding (though we did have the usual number of sleepers), and I apologized to them with a very deep bow at the end of the show.
After loading out, Ramona crashed in the car, while I headed to the Fringe office to pick up our final payout before catching (and I do mean catching; Dave and I galloped down the street) the show.
We got there just in time to see The Forest for the Trees, a show which I’ll describe as Fool for Love lite and leave it at that. Without getting into the nitty gritty, it felt clumsy in almost every way, and while I don’t doubt the commitment and talent of the actor/playwrights, it was the only thing I saw in London that was a real disappointment.
Dave and I were supposed to meet up with Ramona for the last show of the evening, a mentalist/magic show. She didn’t make it, and it’s a shame, because it was the best ‘magic’ show I’ve ever seen, partly because it had a solid core at the centre: no fluffiness in sight.
After that, we met Ramona, grabbed some Pizza Pizza, and then headed back to the Lounge (same venue as the NO SHOW from the night before) for the Fringe awards. Needless to say, we didn’t win: most of the categories were based on patron votes, so even if we had deserved any of those awards, we wouldn’t have had the numbers to win. I was happy to see Mikaela win one (can’t remember which category, offhand, but it actually wasn’t the ‘most daring’ or ‘best solo show’, I don’t think, the two categories I thought the most probably).
And then we went into the party proper. I had a few good chats with people, mostly Fringe volunteers (Ximena, Melissa, and what-his-name, primarily), and then, just before 1:00 am, we said out goodbyes and shoved off, heading back to Toronto.
What a great experience. Great town full of nice people (the ones who weren’t “doin’ a needle” anyway), and a great place to test out a new show. I wish we’d had bigger houses, of course, and not just for the money: I really wanted to show 39 off more. I know it needs much more spit and polish, but it’s an idea show, and that’s why I’m in this whole arts business: I want to share my ideas. When it comes down to it, that’s what fulfils me.