These Winnipeg Fringe shows visit some dark places

Looking to get serious at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival this year? From the tragedy of Hamlet to the last night of Sid and Nancy, these shows go to some dark places.

From the tragedy of Hamlet to the last night of Sid and Nancy, 4 dramatic shows from the 2018 Winnipeg Fringe

Kevin Klassen performs Hamlet (the rest is silence) at the 2018 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Echo Theatre)

Among the comedies and clowns, the magic shows and musicals, the 31st Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival also has some serious fare to offer. 

Our CBC review crew checked out some dramas during the festival's first two days. Here are their reviews.

VarieTEASE: Room 100 at the Chelsea Hotel

★★★★ STARS

Fringers favouring the dark should take in VarieTEASE: Room 100 at the Chelsea Hotel.

Dancing their way to the desolate conclusion of the tortured, desperate romance of Sex Pistol Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, leads Blue Star and Jack Kreeger positively squirm. Aided by energetic and demanding symbolic representations of Sid and Nancy's destructive inner selves, the company packs one of the world's enduring personal catastrophes into some sharp and evocative ensemble work.

The grief dance following Nancy's death is enough to make one want the grief to last a little longer. At times the show felt a little torn between the literal and the figurative. Having the dancers acting out and mouthing lyrics from the musical pieces doesn't always mesh smoothly with the ethereal sense one gets from the dance itself.

Well worth attending in any case.

— Reviewed by John Sadoway


★★★★ STARS

For me, the ultimate Hamlet litmus test is whether I can emotionally engage with the frenzied bloodbath finale. Although Knavish Hedgehog's production, directed by Arne MacPherson, didn't achieve this final synthesis, the effort is well worth observing.

Miranda Baran's Hamlet is at her best as she finds fresh expression for well-worn phrases. Her delivery jolted my understanding of familiar exchanges. Keep an ear open for "words, words, words," and you'll see what I mean.

One of the great pleasures of this production is the large cast. The uncommon range, for a Fringe show, in ages and experience, allows for moments that perfectly balance the energy and rhythm of the play, as when Bill Kerr's delightfully tedious Polonius doles out his fatherly wisdom to the exuberant Laertes, eager to begin his travels.

And thank you for the puppets. As they appeared, I heard myself internally exclaim, "Puppets!" You anticipated needs unknown. Well done.

— Reviewed by Michelle Palansky

The dining room of Winnipeg's Dalnavert Museum is the perfect backdrop for the ghostly Hamlet (the rest is silence). (Echo Theatre)

Hamlet (the rest is silence)

★★★★ STARS

Local stage veteran Kevin Klassen cleverly deconstructs and reassembles Hamlet in this intensely compelling take on Shakespeare's great tragedy.

Turning it into a monologue memory play, Klassen reinvents Hamlet by rearranging the familiar play — beginning with the prince's death and backtracking through the story of how he got there.

It's a moody piece, with Klassen illuminated mainly by the hazy, ghostly projections of designer Jaymez in the intimate confines of Dalnavert Museum's dining room.

Klassen's performance is sensitive and subtle, giving this Hamlet a sad wistfulness.

The approach here means it does sometimes feel disjointed — as memory so often will — and it feels like it relies on at least a passing familiarity with Shakespeare's original, without which you might find yourself a bit lost. Still, for a fresh, smart and satisfying take on the Bard, this play's the thing.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

Paul Duncan plays psychiatric patient Michael in the 'twisty thriller' Elephant Song. (Tess Zeiner)

The Elephant Song

★★★★ STARS

"Giving you a straight answer does not fall within my mandate of lunacy," says psychiatric patient Michael to Dr. Greenberg in this twisty thriller. This serves as an appropriate enough description of life in general these days, but here becomes a barrier through which Dr. Greenberg must break to determine the whereabouts of Michael's therapist, and whether Michael had anything to do with his disappearance.

I recommend this show more for the performances than the script, however. The performances by locals Ray Strachan and Paul Duncan add layers of tension and doubt to a story that already has us wondering what's real and who we can trust.

If you love Primal Fear and Silence of the Lambs, and if something a little scarier and more tragic is part of your mandate for the Fringe this year, you can't go wrong with The Elephant Song.

— Reviewed by Kelly Stifora

With files from Michelle Palansky, John Sadoway, Joff Schmidt, Kelly Stifora


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.