Saskatoon Fringe Reviews, Day 3: From children’s folk stories to an early grave

The 2022 Saskatoon Fringe Festival runs from July 28 to August 6, 2022. (Supplied / Saskatoon Fringe Festival poster)

The first Saturday of the 2022 Saskatoon Fringe was rainy, it was sunny, and it was chock-full of fun Fringe theatre.

Check out the newest reviews from the Fringe here! From children’s theatre to magnificent music, there’s something for everyone at the Fringe.

You can see reviews from Day 1 here.

You can see reviews from Day 2 here.

Show Title: African Folktales with Erik de Waal

What we loved: Erik de Waal’s strong storytelling extends to audience of all ages.

“African Folktales with Erik de Waal” is a fun 45-minute romp featuring a great variety of adorable animal puppets and a couple fun costume pieces for de Waal himself.

It’s the exact right kind of show to engage children — the audience was limited in size, but de Waal quite easily won over even the most stubborn older children during his performance. What started slow and quiet grew to a rather vocal audience of youngsters.

The show is fun, with some great little morals mixed in to the folk tales de Waal spins. There are also some fun jokes for the adults in the audience. It keeps the entire audience occupied, never patronizes the intelligence of the children watching, and draws in the crowd with some true silliness.

What we didn’t love: de Waal’s show was strong — just like it was last time he brought it to the Saskatoon Fringe. The show is a hit with the youngsters, but it hasn’t changed much over the years. It also starts very slow, but by the end most of the audience is fully participating in de Waal’s requests.

And it’s a minor nitpick, but some of de Waal’s puppet work was a bit awkward, having to shuffle puppets on his arm when he was already deep into his lines.

Verdict: The Fringe has hosted a wide variety of children’s theatre over the years, and de Waal’s is still some of the best. It might be starting to get a little long in the tooth, but for now it’s still bringing big toothy grins to the families watching.

This is one of the strongest children’s shows at any Fringe Festival, so it’s a great option to bring the whole family to.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Matt Olson

Show Title: Big Balloon Show

What we loved: Balloons and bouncing around and simple circus tricks can catch the eye of almost any small child.

The “Big Balloon Show” by Ba Ba Balloon was full of sound and colour, ran by hosts Spandy and Demmi. Like a combination of a circus show and balloon birthday party, the duo leads the audience in song, dance and balloon tricks.

It’s a bright show, and the tunes will get your toes tapping. Spandy and Demmi succeed at speaking directly to the children in the front of the audience, and there are enough balloons passed around to satisfy the grasping hands of every child. The giant balloon stunt, despite a gaffe in the setup, brought giggles to the small crowd.

What we didn’t love: This show feels like a work in progress, and one can’t help but wonder if it would fit better as a busking attraction.

The core of the performance revolves around dancing and circus tricks (such as juggling) to the rhythm of various popular music tracks. But those tricks need to be nearly flawless if they’re going to impress — especially from the distance of the stage — and there were errors in the show. And doing close-up cup-and-ball magic tricks when you’re not close up to anyone just doesn’t astound.

The show moved along with too little energy, and the dead space between tricks was awkward. It might be fair to say they would have fared better with a larger audience, but that’s not an excuse for any other Fringe theatre production

Verdict: It’s pretty obvious these are some talented performers, and just as obvious that the show Saturday was not their best work.

Whether the future of this show is on Fringe stages or busking, it’s a few steps away from being polished.

Rating: ★ ✩ ✩ ✩

Matt Olson

Show Title: Half-Breed Vaudeville

What we loved:  Amanda Trapp’s onstage therapy session; honest and vulnerable.

As she gives an introduction to the audience, Trapp states their show is “singing and chatting and being myself. That’s exactly what the Saskatoon based artist delivers in a 40-minute set that combines music with candid banter as she shares the challenges and insecurities of being a working artist. 

From a “Beauty School Dropout”-inspired parody about grant writing to a musical theatre-styled song about the challenges of being “relevant” and “authentic” in an audition, Trapp’s storytelling skills shine in their musical choices.

Trapp is very comfortable with their anecdotes and establishes a good connection with their audience. It allows them to land some well-timed cynical hits and share a vulnerability that allows the audience into their world.

What we didn’t love: The stool! For the first half of the show, Trapp constantly moved a stool back and forth on the stage, to the front while she was chatting to the audience and to the back for each song. Given the space on stage and that she was a solo performer, Trapp could have avoided the distracting movement by just leaving the stool in one place.

Verdict: sorry/grateful theatre’s production is a good example of how effective a one person show with some “singing and chatting and being myself” can be. Trapp’s voice and ability to connect with the audience is worth the price of admission. 

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

– Lorna Batycki

Show Title: Project Ex

What we loved: Facing down your exes sounds like a nightmare. Nathan Costa turned it into a Fringe show. 

“Project Ex” is a comedy — but it also has its moments of seriousness as Costa walks the audience through his art show, made to express his feelings about his most recent girlfriends. Unlike most one-man shows, those girlfriends are given physical form by the audience members Costa brings onstage.

It’s a great bit, and when you have confident and engaged audience members things go even better. Costa traded witty (and clearly improvised) banter with his guests, and on occasion we get to see a very real character emerge from the joking facade. 

There aren’t many people with the stage presence to pull off a show like this, and Costa does an admirable job. 

What we didn’t love: This is a show with a brilliant premise that needs to smooth out the proverbial wrinkles. Everything just takes far too long to develop, and that’s saying something considering how the runtime is padded by transitions between ex-girlfriends. 

Costa too often let the focus of the show meander. After some strong initial interactions with each ex-girlfriend, any momentum the show had ground to a halt as Costa immediately turned to reason with his “best friend” (also pulled from the audience). 

Verdict: The show has moments, Costa’s a natural onstage, and the idea is just superb Fringe fodder. There was just too much left on the table as Costa rushed to a sudden and poignant conclusion that didn’t feel set up by the rest of the show. 

The show works, but it could be truly magnificent with some fixes.

Rating: ★ ★

Matt Olson

Show Title: A Grave Mistake

What we loved: The gruesome twosome on stage for “A Grave Mistake” had no problem drawing in the audience in for a raucous time. 

David Cantor and Amica Hunter of A Little Bit Off Theatre from Oregon, playing broke and hapless urchins, kept the rather ominous-looking show light and silly with their antics. It helped that the pair regularly played into the audience, pulling folks from the crowd into their machinations. 

Despite their rather silly claims of the show being a “scary” experience, it was anything but. Fun physical and prop comedy — and some solid acrobatics from the duo — kept the show moving at a solid pace. And the concept of forcing the audience to make choices influencing the story was a unique one for this Fringe, as well as a great tool to keep the crowd focused and energized.

What we didn’t love: There wasn’t much substance to this show beyond the ludicrous humour. A very loose premise of the two leads looking for a quick buck is rapidly left by the wayside as disjointed wisecracks took over. 

There’s an interlude of sorts wherein one of the characters dresses in a new costume and becomes a moth onstage. Did the audience laugh? Yes. Did it fit with anything else? Not really. 

The pair commented at the end of the show that because of some of the audience choices, some scenes never hit the stage. So maybe there’s a path that would have made everything fit together better — but that’s not really a point in the show’s favour. 

Verdict: This is an extremely “Fringey” Fringe show. It’s a near-slapstick comedy that engages with the audience directly and experiments with some cool ideas. Not every idea works flawlessly, but that’s how trying new things goes.

If you’re looking for some fun physical comedy, you won’t make a mistake by going to “A Grave Mistake.”

Rating: ★ ★

Matt Olson

Show Title: Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany

What we loved: Ingrid Garner told the audience her show was based on the memoir of her grandmother Eleanor. It’s safe to say Garner did her grandmother proud with this performance. 

The show is just as the title suggests — Garner, taking the role of Eleanor, paints a visceral picture of growing up in Germany through the Second World War. Eleanor’s family was on a ship and moving from New Jersey to Germany when the announcement of war first arrived, and Garner’s depiction of the moment through the eyes of a child is gutting. 

All the credit in the world to Garner for portraying Eleanor and the various members of her family clearly. A wide-legged stance for Eleanor’s father, high-held head and folded arms for her mother, slouching shoulders and casual leans for her older brother — Garner’s subtle physicality helped bring these important people to life in crucial moments. 

And Garner’s delivery was absolutely on-point. It’s difficult to imagine the horrors that Garner’s grandmother experienced as a pre-teen and then a teenager, but Garner navigates each and every story with care and precision. The small pieces of humour never felt inappropriate, and the most harrowing moments came with great gravitas. 

What we didn’t love: There were some rough tech troubles at the show on Saturday — extremely loud and grating audio from some of the old-timey radio sound cues, and the house lights came on multiple times when they clearly shouldn’t have. 

Garner’s performance was nearly flawless, and she can’t control technical difficulties. But it was definitely distracting in the early parts of the performance.

Verdict: You never want to hold tech errors against a one-person performance. It’s a truly riveting show, and an unmitigated success for Garner. One of the most memorable shows to grace the stage in a long time, Garner weaves an intricate tapestry of history and emotion as the sole performer. 

Her grandmother may have lived it, but Garner is helping keep this heart-wrenching and oh-so-important story alive. 

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Matt Olson

The Saskatoon Fringe Festival runs from July 28 to August 6, 2022. Information for all shows, tickets, and the full festival program can be found at 25thstreettheatre.org/saskatoon-fringe/.

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