Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: (Victoria) Fractured Fables

Preposterously Good Puppetry
The men of William Head captivate audience with highly original show.
by Morgan McPherson

Well, dear readers, I seem to be saying this with each review I write, but this show is probably one of (if not the best) performances I have seen on stage.  The main difference between this and any other production I have seen over the years? I saw this show on a prison stage.  On Friday night I attended the opening night of Fractured Fables: The Prison Puppet Project, staged by the men of William Head Institution and co-directed by Ingrid Hansen and Peter Balkwill. It was tremendous.

The William Head Onstage Theatre Society (WHoS) has been producing shows since 1981, their inaugural production being the final exam for prisoners taking the University of Victoria’s drama course.  This group has been performing one or two shows a year since then, producing 50 prior works and firmly establishing themselves as the longest running theatre troupe behind bars in the country.  Typically, the company will perform an already-established work (I have had friends working in previous years in productions of the Gormenghast and Waiting for Godot), but not this year: presented with a concept, the men and their civilian directors created an entire show from scratch in seven weeks. The men wrote the skits, designed and built the show’s numerous and varied puppets (with a little help), they built the set (designed by Carole Klemm), they stage-managed, they ran lights (designed by Poe Limkul) and sound, and some of them even picked up instruments they didn’t know how to play and joined the band (lead by the composer of the show’s music, Katrina Kadoski). Some of the men were veterans of WHoS, some of them had never been in any kind of dramatic performance in their lives.  And yes, you heard me correctly: puppets.

The structure of the play was 13 skits, mostly original fables presented  largely without dialogue, broken up by several true stories from the inmates’ youth and acted out through the use of puppets.  And my stars, what puppets they were! I have never seen such creativity in my life. There were large, intricate birds, tiny wee cotton-ball baby birds, a representation of fire, a very large beetle and …well…I don’t really want to give it all away.  Let it be said that under the guiding hand of Peter and Ingrid (Peter is the co-artistic director of the Old Trout Puppet Workshop in Calgary, Ingrid has studied puppetry at the Banff intensive program), these men did a spectacular job of designing and constructing the main 'players' for these fables.  The actors were always visible behind the puppets, giving them voice (or sound effect, as the case may be), in matching costumes designed by Jeni Luther and one of the inmates.  This show was absolutely hilarious.  I don’t think I’ve laughed so much that I have had so many tears in my eyes in a long time.  The skits were clever, sweet, adorable, sad, and unexpected all at once.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself. For me, music is a big part of a performance, and Katrina Kadoski’s compositions for this show complemented everything that was happening onstage perfectly. 

It took terrific heart and courage for these men to get up onstage, do something new, and share a piece of themselves with the audience.  I have long been involved in community theatre (since the tender age of 12), and I daresay that this production best embodies everything I feel that theatre can do for people: give them courage, let them reveal a bit about themselves, and help them discover new talents and abilities.  I would go again in a heartbeat, and I’m truly sorry I have waited so long to see one of the performances on the WHoS stage.

Run Time:  1 hour, no intermission
Performances Left: October 18, 19, 25, 26, 31 and November  1 , 2, 7, 8, 9

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