Toronto Fringe 2017 Day #5

Vanessa Quesnelle and Martin Dockery in Moonlight After Midnight. Photo by Will O’Hare

This was my day 5, officially the fringe's day 8. Saw two shows by friends who kindly made it possible for me to come. Happily, I loved them both.

As always, title links to the fringe box office.

Letters to Annabelle

From the moment you walk into the venue, a bar on Dundas St, you're immersed in the world of the show. You're welcomed into the space by a man dressed like a maitre d. Burlesque dancers mingle with the audience and with each other. You get to order drinks and food if you wish.

We're in a bar just after The War to End All Wars. A young soldier has returned, searching out the woman who gave him reason to survive. In the process of looking for her, he gets immersed in the protection racket of the owner of the bar and reconnects with a girl from his hometown working there.

What ensues is a story about illusion, loss, and the hope of love. It actually reminded me a lot of a show I worked on a lifetime ago, Andrew Woolner's Dearest Companion. The immersive experience brings a poignancy to the piece that I think a conventional staging would have lost. With the action all around us, we can feel the characters hopes, dreams, and pain. The letters that we hear have a beautiful poetry mixed in with the horrors of war, giving us a understanding of the nightmares our protagonist has on a nightly basis. From the get-go there's a strong sense of where the story will end up but I kept hoping for a happy ending anyway.

The show has a few things that needs to be ironed out. I was never quite sure where we were. I thought we were in Quebec, as the story seemed to indicate that it was a last stop before shipping out and the Canadian forces trained at Valcartier, Quebec. Yet there's a reference in the show to doing a run to Albany, which is nowhere near there. That would place us in Kingston or Cornwall. Also, the scene changes were very slow. Live piano playing and burlesque were used to cover these and while they were entertaining diversions, it made things feel very dragged out. The voice-overs of the letters got lost quite a bit.

These are all minor things though. If you want to experience something different and dramatic, this is where you want to be.

Moonlight After Midnight

I've heard about this show for a long time as Martin and Vanessa have toured it to many fringes and will be taking it to Edinburgh next. So happy to have finally seen it. It has a twist ending that I saw coming only because of a comment Martin made to me before I saw it. The audience had no idea.

I hesitate to say any more beyond the initial set up of a man and a woman in a hotel room because the joy of this piece lies in the discovery, how it always keeps you guessing as to what is going on. Every time you have a handle on it, it shifts the ground under your feet.

It touches upon the ways we play roles in order to dance around our truths, especially around love. The writing is very strong and the performances actually play with levels of competence to help guide you along the way.

If you love an intriguing story and don't mind being challenged as an audience member, then make sure you catch this show.