NSTF: Opposing forces battle for supremacy in the underworld of audience influence in the diabolically charming Clique Claque

Pea Green Theatre Group brings its own brand of dark period comedy/melodrama with Mark Brownell’s Clique Claque, directed by Sue Miner; running now in the Factory Theatre Mainspace as part of the Toronto Fringe Next Stage Theatre Festival (NSTF).

Clique Claque takes us to 1880s Paris, where we meet Madame Clothilde, aka the Chef de Claque (Michelle Langille), and her husband Yannick (Robert Clarke), who run a group of professional clappers paid to manipulate audience response to theatrical performances. They can turn a bad play into a smash hit and mediocre actors into stars. Their ingénue employee Clemantine (Thalia Kane) may seem to be the picture of naiveté and innocence, but she’s a veteran of the game; though all is not well for her.

Enter young Victor (Victor Pokinko), a one-time music prodigy and current out of work musician, newly arrived from Canada, and looking for inspiration and a job. The Claque takes him on and he proceeds with his education, and in more ways than one. As he becomes instrumental in the Claque’s plan to overthrow an opposing gang of audience influencers—a group called the Clique, led by mature student Dubosc (Ron Kennell), who brutally heckle bad performances—Victor finds he may be in for more than he bargained for. Ultimately, he must choose between what is true and right, and the bitch goddess Fame.

Incorporating some cheeky but gentle audience participation, Clique Claque is an entertaining and engaging show, featuring a stand-out cast. Langille is mesmerizing as Clothilde, the seductive mistress of manipulation. Good cop to husband Yannick’s decidedly bad cop, she may be the wife in the marriage, but one gets the distinct impression that it’s she who wears the pants. Clarke is the villain you love to hate as devilishly devious, cynical and thuggish as Yannick; he represents the dark, seedy underbelly of the Claque’s endeavours, while Clothilde brings the illusion of respectable professionalism.

As Clemantine, Kane brings some lovely layering and conflict; a young woman of some experience, she knows the harshness of the world too well and feels trapped in the Claque. There’s a lost, wistful sense of longing for something better. Pokinko’s Victor is a great combination of wide-eyed innocent and game lad; disillusioned with the world of art himself, he starts out just wanting to eat, but finds himself seduced by the prospect of money and fame. Kennell’s Dubosc is a sophisticated picture of art and academe. A man with a quick, wry wit and unexpected talents, Dubosc is a fierce crusader with a deep appreciation of the good life and that which is beautiful, especially beautiful young men.

With shouts to Nina Okens for the stunning period costumes.

Opposing forces battle for supremacy in the underworld of audience influence in the diabolically charming Clique Claque.

Clique Claque continues in the Factory Theatre Mainspace until Jan 15. Get your advance tix and passes online; and check out the full NSTF schedule.

Photo: Michelle Langille and Robert Clarke – by Mark Brownell

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Toronto Fringe: A most outrageously funny mashup in Romeo & Juliet Chainsaw Massacre

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Bain & Bernard Comedy has cooked up one helluva theatrical mashup for Toronto Fringe with its production of Matt Bernard’s Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre, directed by Bernard and running to packed houses at the Randolph Theatre.

Inspired by a variety of horror films throughout the decades, particularly The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Scream and The Tower of London, we find Romeo and Juliet’s Verona under advisement (via 1950s radio-style broadcasts) that a deranged killer is on the loose after escaping from a local asylum. Dialogue from Romeo and Juliet is combined with modern language to great comic effect, and all hilarious hell breaks loose during the campy fun scenes of stalking and dismemberment.

The kick-ass ensemble has excellent comic timing, and does an amazing job with the hybrid language, chainsaw mayhem SFX and fight scenes. Stand-outs include Sarite Harris’s feisty Nurse; Michael Iliadis’s dramatic Mercutio; Brittany Kay’s sassy Juliet; Jeremy Lapalme’s saucy Peter the Illiterate Servant; Victor Pokinko’s slapdash Benvolio; Nicolas Porteous’s serious, misunderstood Romeo; and Scott Garland’s cocky, sleazy County Paris.

All the key plot points of an abbreviated Romeo and Juliet plus the over-the-top gruesome fun of horror schlock. What more could you ask for?

Star-crossed lovers! Codpieces! Chainsaws! A most outrageously funny Shakespeare/horror film mashup in Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre.

Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre continues at the Randolph Theatre until July 10; get your tickets in advance for this one, kids, these guys are packing them in there. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

NSTF: A jaunty, jolly & jarring good time on the Thames in hilarious, entertaining Three Men in a Boat

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Victor Pokinko, Matt Pilipiak & Scott Garland in Three Men in a Boat

I rarely resort to alliteration in my headlines, but in the case of Pea Green Theatre’s production of Three Men in a Boat, I was inspired to break with convention. Based on an 1889 travelogue by Jerome K. Jerome, adapted for the stage by Mark Brownell and directed by Sue Minor, Three Men in a Boat is a remount of a very successful Toronto Fringe 2014 production, back to delight audiences at the Next Stage Theatre Festival (NSTF) at Factory Theatre.

In an attempt to break free from general lethargy and ennui, three hearty young bachelors decide to undertake a two-week boat excursion on the Thames, complete with all the provisions of civilized British society, a canvas to keep out inclement weather and a dog named Montmorency. Despite warnings of rain and thunderstorms ahead, they embark on their journey. What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, disaster and hilarity ensue – along with some great period storytelling, hysterical physical comedy and some bang-up three-part harmonies that would make Gilbert and Sullivan proud.

The marvelous cast features Matt Pilipiak (Jay, the fastidious and sensitive narrator), Victor Pokinko (George, the saucy, slap-dash musician) and Scott Garland (Harris, the burley whisky connoisseur – and also an excellent mini-cast of incidental characters along their journey). With shouts to costume designer Nina Okens for the fabulous period costumes.

It’s a jaunty, jolly and jarring good time on the Thames in hilarious, entertaining Three Men in a Boat.

Three Men in a Boat continues in the Factory Theatre Studio until Jan 17, with a talk back following this afternoon’s (Jan 10) performance at the Hoxton. Advance tickets are strongly recommended – last night’s performance was sold out.

Check out this vid of the opening sequence and you’ll see why:

To book tickets in advance, call 416-966-1062 or purchase tix online; or you can purchase tickets in at the box office, which opens one hour before the first show of the day. Click here for full ticket/pass info.

Fabulous time as Panto Players milk the big panto fun in Jacques & the Bean Stock Market

Jacques-and-the-Bean-StockMarket2.3-longRed Sandcastle Theatre’s Panto Players opened their 5th annual holiday panto last week with a three-day pre-holiday run of Jacques and the Bean Stock Market, returning to the stage on Dec 26.

Written by Jane A. Shields and Rosemary Doyle, and directed by Jackie English, The Panto Players take us on a wild and wacky ride, with twists and turns, corny fun comedy bits, young audience participation, and music and dance breaks featuring re-worked pop favourites.

A retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk, with a local modern-day twist, Jacques (Michael Postumus) is saddened when his mother Widow Twankey (Robert Keller) decides to sell the beloved family cow Buttons (Victor Pokinko), who’s producing some strange, undrinkable milk. Meanwhile, evil broker Ronald Bump (Taran Beaty), his business partner Harpy Golden (Matthew Donovan) and lawyer the Cheshire Cat (English) scheme to get Twankey to sell them her cottage property so they can build their next condo project. Add to that mix some Irish river dancing/Mexican jumping beans (Kristen Foote and Doyle, the two multi-tasking actors in this production) and you have hilarious good times, with a fun twist or two.

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Top (l to r): Michael Postumus, Robert Keller, Matthew Donovan, Victor Pokinko & Taran Beaty  Bottom (l to r): Rosemary Doyle, Jackie English & Kristen Foote – in Jacques & the Bean Stock Market – photo by Burke Campbell

Jacques and the Bean Stock Market features a delightful, hard-working cast – with several familiar faces from pantos past. Perennial favourites Beaty and English are back, with Beaty putting the “I” in “Evil” as the notorious bad guy Ronald Bump, the consummate money-grubbing, grasping corporate bad guy; and English returning as everyone’s favourite pink cat, but the wily, cocky feline has gone over to the dark side this year as Bump’s scheming and scamming lawyer. But darn it, you still can’t help but adore that candy floss-coated Cheshire Cat. Must be that cock-eyed smirk. And there are multi-character performances from Doyle, who starts off as a winsome pony, standing outside the door of the theatre, inviting folks to see the show, and served as a marvelous last-minute back-up as a Roadie and a Bean. Pokinko and Donovan (who were part of the Sleepy Beauty cast last year) return to the Panto Players this year. Pokinko is hilariously deadpan as the wry-witted and world-weary, but inevitably lovable cow Buttons; and Donovan is adorkable as Bump’s bow tie-wearing, put-upon business partner Harpy Golden; not content as Bump’s sidekick, he dreams of forming a boy band.

Joining this year’s rowdy good times are a few new faces. Postumus does a hysterical job with Jacques, a not too bright, but big-hearted lad with boy band hair and a German accent. Keller’s Widow Twankey is a sharp-witted, cunning dame with a fierce fashion sense and some fine Joan Collins-esque moments. And Foote (multi-tasking along with Doyle) is a treat, especially as one of the multicultural beans, an airy-fairy interpretive dancer who needs no excuse – or official venue – to perform her expressive art.

Shouts to the entire cast for juggling text, improv, audience participation, songs and choreography, as well as showcasing some fine musician chops in performances by Beaty (guitar), English (drums) and Donovan (trombone). Stand-outs: the “Definition” dance break/corny joke bits and Buttons’ rap.

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Rosemary Doyle as the winsome pony, working box office – photo by Burke Campbell

And big shouts to super busy Red Sandcastle A.D. Doyle for the always enjoyable and imaginative costumes and set (in addition to the million other jobs she does at the theatre), and the company’s intrepid stage manager Deborah Anne Frankel for keeping the rowdy fun all together.

It’s a fabulous time at Red Sandcastle Theatre as The Panto Players milk the big panto fun for kids of all ages in Jacques and the Bean Stock Market.

Jacques and the Bean Stock Market are on break for the holiday – and back up and running Dec 26 – Jan 2; check the show page for show times (or check out the dates/times in the poster image above). For advance tix, call: 416-845-9411 – otherwise, best get there early, as it’s an intimate space and a popular show. Cash only at the box office.

Side note for the grown-ups: (This comes from an exchange I witnessed between parents at yesterday’s matinee; I debated on mentioning it, but thought that there was something we could learn here.) Be prepared for LOLs and excited, noisy children – it’s a panto, so the audience is encouraged to cheer the hero and boo the villain. Some kids may get especially excited and boisterous – and if you feel a child is being over-exuberant in his/her participation, please try to be understanding. If you must speak to another parent about their child’s behaviour, please do so respectfully (without ganging up on them and out of earshot of the child), exercise compassion and tolerance, and try to avoid making assumptions. Everyone is there to have fun, so let’s be kind to each other.

Twilight Zone meets Lord of the Flies in playful, disturbing and disorienting Half a League

Banner image for Half a LeagueHalf a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred…
– “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Rarely Pure Theatre’s production of Half a League, by Scott Garland and directed by Alexander Offord, had its gala opening at Fraser Studios last night. And what a trip it was.

There’s an eerie atmosphere when you walk into the theatre. In the midst of the detritus of the junkyard set – featuring three distinct piles of waste and discarded household items – a dirty faded pale yellow stuffed dog dangles limply from a hangman’s noose. Over the speakers, you can hear a tinny, static-filled robotic voice reciting “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” playing on a loop.

When the house lights go down, a figure emerges from the house entrance, shuffling with great effort as he drags a full hockey bag to the stage. Arming himself with an electric bass, he then takes up his place behind the microphone stage right. It is here that we’re able to get a good look at him. In period costume that includes tails, he is in mime-style white face with circular rosy red cheeks. Eventually, we will learn that he is called Sir Rupert (Victor Pokinko).

Then, bam! Three boys emerge from their hiding places among the three piles of junk (their “posts,” as we soon here them described): Peter (Mamito Kukwikila), Jim (Stephanie Carpanini) and Sam (Katie Corbridge, also the producer/public outreach gal for Rarely Pure Theatre). The boys appear to be playing soldiers. The junkyard is their territory and they are maintaining and defending it. There is a lost boys sense about these kids – and even though their roles within the unit are well-defined, there is the sense that they’re not sure who they are. And when a stranger named Billy (Nicholas Porteous) appears unexpectedly in their midst, the “game” changes dramatically. All while Sir Rupert moves throughout the scene, silently witnessing the proceedings. Skulking unseen, but not always in the background, he only opens his mouth when Pete tells the story of meeting him – his words cryptic, delivered with a malevolent tone. And we learn that it is Sir Rupert’s words that have inspired this war game.

Pokinko does a marvelous job as the ever-present Sir Rupert, going from a seemingly doll-like and innocuous observer to stalker/puppet master – like the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with a death metal sensibility. Kukwikila has a commanding presence as Pete, the brains of the operation – the senior officer and strategist, the builder of the game as he was inspired to do by Sir Rupert’s words, drawn in and mesmerized – and fully committed to creating and maintaining this world. Carpanini’s Jim is the brawn; all ‘shoot now, ask questions later’ – and Pete and Sam are right to keep him away from firearms. Stout-hearted and loyal, Jim doesn’t question why – he just does. And Corbridge’s Sam, the youngest of the group, is the heart and soul; trying to be tough and pull his weight, but struggling with the uncertainty of his youth and more at home with a stuffed animal than a weapon. All three female actors do an outstanding job of capturing boy culture, the unbridled bravado only reined in by the rules and etiquette of the game, layered over that afraid, lost boy quality. And Porteous’s interloper Billy is a strange one, and his arrival is a particular curiosity (and I’m not going to spoil that here); he does an excellent job of switching on to the game, without losing his sense of mystery. Is he just playing along or really into it? Who are these guys?

Along with the question of who these boys are, the play brings up the issues of kids’ exposure to violence – real or imaginary – and how the glorification of war so easily seeps into a child’s consciousness. See what you think. I think that’s about all I’m going to say. You’ll just have to see this for yourselves. Okay, I will say: long after you leave the theatre, the chanting will haunt you: Half a league, half a league, half a league…

With shouts to the design team for their creative work on this strange, troubling world: Jake Merritt (set), Gaby Grice (costume), props (Lauren Dobbie and Margaret Evraire) and Pokinko (music).

Twilight Zone meets Lord of the Flies in the playful, disturbing and disorienting world of Half a League.

Get out to Fraser Studios to see this. In the meantime, get a sneak peek of the show via interviews with playwright Scott Garland, director Alexander Offord and producer/actor Katie Corbridge.

Half a League runs at Fraser Studios until May 31; you can purchase advance tix online here. You can also keep up with Rarely Pure Theatre on Twitter.

Big shiny panto fun with Panto Players’ Sleepy Beauty @ Red Sandcastle Theatre

Sleepy-Beauty-Star-CorrectedSheets and coloured fabric, plus some artfully custom cut tape and green felt, become castle walls and turrets, and an enchanted forest. All part of the magic and imagination at Red Sandcastle Theatre – in this case, for the Panto Players’ production of Sleepy Beauty – The Tale of the Narcoleptic Princess and Her Cat.

Written by Jane A. Shields and Red Sandcastle A.D./impressaria Rosemary Doyle, and directed by Jackie English, this modern-day retelling of the beloved fairy tale features a sparkling, multi-talented ensemble cast and a head boppin’, toe tappin’ series of pop tunes tailored for the show.

Three fairies (Matthew Donovan, Victor Pokinko and Brenda Somers) attending a christening for Princess Suzie come up with a plan to thwart the evil machinations of bad fairy Malefolent (Taran Beaty), softening the curse set upon the infant, tasking a remarkable pink cat (English) with looking after her, then finding a prince (Andy Ingram) to break the sleeping spell that bewitches a teenage Suzie (Rebecca Perry).

The fairies are a treat: Donovan is all heart and southern gentility, with a touch of befuddlement and insecurity, as Twankey Fairy; Pokinko is fabulously dapper and entertaining as woodland Fairy of the Trees Algonquin (but you can call him Al); and Somers is a ball of blue fun as the sharp-witted, colourful-haired Fairy of the Lake. Perry is adorably precocious as Princess Suzie (also doing double duty as the hilariously doting Queen) and has an impressive set of pipes; and Ingram is wonderfully goofy as the handsome, but dim-witted, Prince Joe (and gives a comic turn as the King). Beaty is chock full of evil comedic deliciousness as the jealous and vengeful horned fairy Malefolent. And English is a delight as everyone’s favourite wry-witted pink cat with a French accent.

All the shenanigans kept running by Doyle (wearing many hats, including box office, lighting FX and palace guard) and SM Deborah Ann Frankel, Sleeping Beauty features colourful, striking costuming (designed by Doyle, who also did the set) and catchy, fun tunes borrowed from pop – lyrics rewritten for the show – like “Wake Up, Little Suzie,” “Can’t Touch This,” and “Celebration,” and from artists like Katy Perry and ZZ Top. And the entire cast transforms into a band, rockin’ out on “Call Me Al” – with Beaty on guitar, Donovan on trombone and Pokinko on keys.

Sleepy Beauty is a big shiny panto good time for kids of all ages.

Sleepy Beauty continues its run at Red Sandcastle Theatre until Jan 4, including 2 p.m. matinees (Dec 28 and 31, Jan 3 and 4) and 7 p.m. shows (Dec 29 and 30, Jan 2 and 3).