Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: (Edmonton) The Medicine Show (Fringe)

Barking Mad
by Rebecca Edgewood

Historically, Medicine Shows were travelling horse and wagon teams which peddled ‘miracle cure’ medications and other products between various entertainment acts.  This was in the day when ‘horsepower’ involved actual horses, and when a travelling act (good or bad) brought an entire town out to watch.

And it is this nostalgic flavour of a time that will sadly never come again that talented Vaudevillian-style actors Sharon Nolan and Chris Bange evoke in their ‘Loonatic Fringe’ play, The Medicine Show.  Let me start with the venue. The Medicine Show is presented in a special BYOV – a sort of Fringe-Within-A-Fringe. A tent, called the ‘Loonatic Fringe’, which stands between food stands and railway tracks on a somewhat sleepy part of the Fringe grounds.  The tent is draped with gold and blue fabric, and the actors change behind this ‘big top’, in a smaller tent. It is neither light-proof nor sound-proof, and the sound of the passers-by and the flapping of the tent in the early evening breeze merely adds authenticity to the scene. The ticket booth is even manned with a barker (who sports the requisite moustache), and really, there couldn’t be a better place for a modern recreation of a Medicine Show. 
The actors are exquisitely corny. It’s genius, really. They are both consummate professionals, fully aware that audiences today look for snappy, sophisticated humour, and some of their jokes were dated three generations ago. But the thing is, Bange and Nolan don’t care. They’re not pandering to modern audiences and critics, they’re putting on a Medicine Show, complete with ‘Magical Elixer’ that Nolan’s Prairie Fire character sells from an oversized carpet bag at the show’s conclusion.  

My only criticism is that the very real talent of the actors are quelled somewhat by the characters they play. Nolan is a fantastic dancer, and Bange a staggeringly impressive magician. They just make it all seem so easy…but hey, this isn’t a magic show, and it isn’t a dance show. It’s a giant ploy to sell bottles of ‘Magic’ elixir. So step back into a simpler time, when tired one-liners were young and new, where elixers cured even hamsters of dandruff, and where magic and wonder still exists, untouched by modernity. Just about the perfect Fringe show.

The Medicine Show is at the Edmonton Fringe

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