The Last Great Hunt have been busy this festival season, with its members participating in no less than five Fringe World events in 2015: Elephents, Yoshi’s Castle, FAG/STAG, BRUCE, and Monroe & Associates. Two of the five, Elephents and BRUCE, are highly acclaimed productions seeing a return season, while the other three are brand new works. Now, I’ve already published a review of Elephents after its premiere in May of 2014, so I’m not going to repeat myself. And, I’ve already given FAG/STAG a pretty glowing write-up, so I’ll just say a few words about the remaining three works, Yoshi’s Castle, BRUCE, and Monroe & Associates.
Yoshi’s Castle – The Stables, 7 Feb 2015
Two young ladies meet for the first time over their father’s will. One is an uptight Jane Austen-obsessed worrywart Tilly (Arielle Gray), and the other is a kooky kawaii-obsessed video game developer Yoshi (Adriane Daff). They’re supposed to be polar opposites, and for the most part they are, except for when they start yelling at each other, at which point Daff and Gray become nearly indistinguishable. The character of Tilly comes across as quite an exaggeration, whereas Yoshi seems a little bit more realistic, though I wasn’t quite convinced of Daff’s character either, which is unusual. Daff’s interpretation of Yoshi somehow seemed too savvy, too grown up for the silly barrettes, fake blue hair and other decora-inspired ephemera she’s dressed in. If she had matched the caricaturish nature of Gray’s interpretation, however, the dynamic might have changed dramatically, so perhaps the choice to ground Yoshi is the right one.
Nevertheless, Gray and Daff play off each other well, and the action moves along at a nice clip. There are fun projections (okay I did get a little distracted by the cats tucked away at the bottom of the screen that served as a backdrop), and my lack of video game knowledge wasn’t a hindrance to my understanding of the material, thank goodness. In the end, though, the conflict between two opposites trying to figure each other out as they discuss their dead father’s will didn’t necessitate the conventions it was strapped with. “Yoshi” from Japan could have just as easily been “Zoe” from Melbourne; what’s clear is that she’s an outsider who has come to shake up Tilly’s world. The rest is cute set dressing.
BRUCE – Teatro 1, 13 Feb 2015
It’s amazing what Tim Watts can do with a single puppet. But with BRUCE, it’s not even a fully realized puppet, in the traditional sense; it’s a rectangle of foam with a mouth cut in it and some googly eyes stuck on. He and Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd, dressed in black except for some white gloves, duck and weave together as they manipulate this extraordinary piece of discarded furniture padding as it becomes half a dozen different characters. Watts gives voice to those characters, using funny accents and vocal registers with great flexibility and range. Nixon-Lloyd does the handiwork, gesticulating with indefatigable precision.
The story is ripped straight from the movies, indulging in a few familiar tropes to weave its lovably silly magic. Bruce as the unlikely, reluctant hero, is as utterly endearing as any of our favourite Muppets, and as real as any Bruce Willis character (provided there’s a bit of Woody Allen spliced in for a little “anxious neurotic” flair). Just to keep us on our toes, there’s an element of time travel in the flashback-structured plot, and things get a little complicated as we find out what happens to Bruce once he boards a rocket ship by accident. But just go with it; I mean, it’s not as if your disbelief wasn’t already left hanging on an eight-foot coat rack outside the door when you came in to see this two-man, one-puppet show.
Monroe & Associates – The Blue Room Theatre Caravan, 18 Feb 2015
This is one of the best events at Fringe World 2015. I haven’t seen all 500+ Fringe events, but I’m still going to make that call. Anthony and Tim Watts (father and son) have really outdone themselves. Here is a truly immersive piece of theatre where you, the only audience, are also an actor. You are handed an envelope that sets up the premise: your name is Monroe, you’ve been in hospital, and you’re suffering from amnesia. You have a key to a caravan marked “Monroe and Associates” whose interior is fitted out like a stereotypical detective’s office, even down to the green lamp. You sit down at a desk and begin reading a note that’s been left for you from someone who you apparently used to be intimate with. There’s a box of belongings, a briefcase, a filing cabinet, a safe, and a bookshelf. One clue leads to the next, and slowly, over the course of 30-50 minutes (depending on how you choose your own adventure) you unravel the mystery of who you are.
So much thought has gone into this little theatre lab. The Watts Associates’ ability to predict the motivations and impulses of the average Joe Q. Public is uncanny. They’ve made it simultaneously easy and uncomfortable to be immersed in this encapsulated world. It’s not unlike the performer’s recurring dream of being forced to go on stage not knowing their lines, music or moves, and sometimes the experience makes you wonder if you’re “doing it right.” At one stage, I had to remember how to load a cassette tape into a tape recorder, which I haven’t done in twenty years. Luckily, I managed to figure it out, and anyway, I knew Watts was there to throw me a bit of rope should I need it, and he plays along both in person and as a disembodied voice on a phone throughout. I knew I was being watched (which in itself is an odd experience for an audience member), so sometimes I had the urge to “act” as it were, but that manifested mostly as thinking out loud to myself as I bumbled with opening a safe or solving a word puzzle, cursing at myself for not getting it sooner. As such, I came away thinking what a fascinating case study this little experiment in human behaviour must be for its creators. I absolutely loved being their lab rat, and would jump at the chance to do it all again.