[Review] VAULT Festival 2017: Eyeballs, Stardoors and Dragons [2/3/17]

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In our final set of reviews for the 2017 VAULT Festival, we meet some seriously quirky characters with Stephanie Morin-Robert’s cycloptic yet emotional comedy Blindside, celebrate the joy of scifi with Project2’s Improvised Science Fiction, and a how to guide on combating the satanic panic with Carrie Marx in B.A.D.D. (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons):

Blindside by Stephanie Morin-Robert

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Stephanie Morin-Robert seems like a pretty normal girl next door. Up on stage, she’s dressed in a light conservative green dress and a white shawl, her stage presence minor, and when she opens her mouth to speak, soft spoken and conversational. But Stephanie is no ordinary girl. Diagnosed with restinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer, her left eye had to be removed at the tender age of 2, and she’s been living with a glass eye ever since, along with a terrible depth perception and fear of being ridiculed at school.

But Stephanie isn’t one for pity. As a child, she’s quick-witted and headstrong, fully taking advantage of all the unspoken benefits of being a cancer survivor, from that extra piece of cake to later bedtimes. Despite her initial mousy voice, it transforms into that of a lion, confident and full of heart. In her show, Stephanie brings us through some of the highlights of her childhood growing up in Porcupine, Ontario, from freaking out the substitute teacher by dramatically popping out her glass eye, to charging the other students to see her do it, to sharing her first kiss with a boy at summer camp, with a surprising twist that will leave audiences both grossed out and tickled by how outrageous the whole affair was.

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Stephanie possesses a keen awareness of her physicality, interlacing her anecdotes with interpretive dance about her visits to the hospital, proud of her body when she peers into a videocamera that projects her face onto a screen, zoomed in so the audience sees every twitch of her muscle as she curls her eyelashes and plays with her eye. This is a woman who mines the energy of her youth for the mischief she brings into adulthood, who knows how to milk the comic moments for maximum effect from the audience, with a particular penchant for using her tongue. There’s nothing inherently wrong with licking one’s lips, but Stephanie’s prehensile tongue and deliberateness with the way she wields it creates brilliant physical comedy at the expense of the audience’s stomach.
Ultimately, Stephanie Morin-Robert has created a very pure, very honest account of what it’s like to grow up with one eye. It’s not a disability, it’s a superpower, if only you know how to wield it, icky as it may be. Apart from the humorous tales, there’s a tenderness to it as well, especially when she describes receiving her first cat Simba from the Make-A-Wish Foundation (You should have picked the car! Her mother says, exasperated). She loves her cats (and their elevator butts), and the love which she showers onto Simba makes losing him all the more painful, a metaphorical point in her life where she learns how to be an adult and move on. Blindside is a story about immense strength, wit and a mighty heart, and what it means to grow up different and fully capitalising on it. Stephanie normalizes her condition completely in the hour we spend with her, and beyond the eye puns, the grossout and irreverent humour and hilarious stories, this is a story about love, her family, and the different ways we get by. Blindside will take you back to your own childhood as you discover yourself, and an entertaining and charming insight into Stephanie’s quirky upbringing.

Blindside plays at the Network Theatre till 5 March. Tickets available here. Keep up with Stephanie on her website and follow her on Twitter @stephanielefty

Project2: Improvised Science Fiction

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Project2 is back in the final week of the VAULT Festival, and the team works together to produce some seriously impressive improv that shows off their quick wits and infinite imagination.
Actors Katy Schutte, Katy Schutte, Jonathan Monkhouse and Chris Mead make up the visual component of Project2, who start off their show based on a single location prompt suggested by the audience. Amongst fascinating suggestions like ‘Atlantis’ and ‘a toilet on a spaceship’, the team eventually went with ‘Stargate’, but with a twist – no more would it be just an epic portal to another dimension, but an innocuous door with a knob, a maelstrom of space-time lying behind it, aptly named the ‘Stardoor’. Chris Mead and Jonathan Monkhouse played best friends curious to find out what lay beyond the door, while Katy Schutte acted as their inept guide, where the Stardoor’s knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation. The two friends take a leap (or trip) of faith through the Stardoor, guts fly out, and Schutte is left bewildered.
The show continued with a series of seemingly unconnected sketches, from an ill-fated meeting with a giant squid, to a police procedural involving a bloodless murder, and an old lady who collects cats that appear from a maelstrom in the park. I loved these sketches, laughing my hardest in a long time. Particularly outstanding was Schutte as a crime scene enthusiast, hamming up her accent and really going for the ditzy aunt type character, which in turn led to a pitch perfect conversation between her and Monkhouse as an incompetent detective attempting to control a police car with too many buttons for comfort. This was followed by an epic car chase scene (played out with Schutte and Mead’s fingers), including driving straight through and destroying a helicopter midflight. Also impressive was Monkhouse as an old man, who upon seeing Schutte receive a postcard from the maelstrom, wishes for a thousand pounds, after which he is struck by a projectile of guts (which became a running gag), and Schutte cheekily replies ‘you never specified a thousand pounds of what.’
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At the same time, I almost started to wonder whether Project2 was intent on completely deviating from their original Stargate idea. Of course, I was proven completely wrong when Mead returned as his original character coming across a postcard store beyond the maelstrom. In a kind of Cloud Atlas style movement, the team brought us back to the main storyline, and started to connect all the pieces, the malestrom acting as a catalyst/portal to connect space-time, and murderous squirrels (Mead) appeared in the police procedural story, while Monkhouse, forever playing the straight man, was left bewildered as his original character appeared through a maelstrom to witness Schutte-as-old-lady eat Mead’s guts and toss them through the portal.
A huge amount of praise must be lauded to Fred Deakin and Tom Adams’ thoroughly impressive music, which was also improvised on the spot. Consisting of a combination of spoken word and instrumental music that were edited and warped, the duo created a magnificent, ethereal soundscape that ranged from the creepy to the jaunty, matching each scene perfectly and sent some serious shivers down my spine. Much like the night’s Stardoor, Project2’s brand of improv transcends boundaries and genre, and as funny as it is, does its parody with plenty of loving homage to its source material. Project2 works like gears in motion, rolling on in perfect harmony, and are an absolutely excellent laugh machine with boundless creativity and lightning fast wit, and definitely come under recommended viewing if ever the opportunity arises.

Project2: Improvised Science Fiction plays at the Pit (The Vaults) till 5 March. Tickets available here. Keep up with Project2 on their website and follow them on Twitter @Project2prov

B.A.D.D. by Hermetic Arts

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Carrie Marx stars in Hermetic Arts’ debut production as Pam, an ultra conservative lady hell bent on fighting that forces of evil that are abound in 80s America.
Inspired by the satanic panic that gripped the conservative Christians in the past, B.A.D.D. (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons) takes the form of a workshop, in which Pam educates the audience about where Satan himself is hiding, how to identify him, and most of all, how to combat the prince of darkness. The answer is of course, that Satan is everywhere, from music videos to abortions, but is most prominent in role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, where impressionable youths can easily be lead astray when they can’t tell fantasy from reality.
Clad in a snazzy clean pressed pink pantsuit, heels and of course, a crucifix necklace, Marx nimbly transforms into private investigator Pam, a concerned mother and woman of many trades, and shows off some pretty fantastic character work, adopting an American midwest accent and playing up the conspiracy theorist act. Armed with plenty of evidence, both physical and anecdotal, along with a handy dandy flipchart, Pam’s dead serious take on the problem is prime for ridicule, mostly because it mimics very real rhetoric of the 80s.
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Marx’s jokes come hard and fast, from Pam putting up a poster asking for role players seeking a dungeon mistress, to breaking into teenagers’ houses and stealing from them in the name of justice, to indulging in her self-penned moralistic ‘Pam Plays’, which are little more than shallow skits to self-aggrandize and call out bad parenting (which she also manages to get audience members to act in!). Marx’s comic timing is impeccable, and she mines Pam’s nervous tics and constant panic over not having enough time for maximum laughter, knowing exactly how long to hold an expression or feign shock with a shrill scream. Pam may come across as a paranoid lunatic at first, but things start to get strange when she backmasks Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Ozz (‘How evil do you have to be to get fired from Black Sabbath?’) and she turns out the lights, and a child saying ‘Mummy, mummy’ is very audible. Could Pam’s fears have some grounding after all?
Although never fully explored, Pam’s tragic backstory is heavily implied and easily inferred by the end of the play, and despite being a fringe trend in many shows, in Marx’s capable hands and the unique concept behind it, it feels very original, and still manages to bring on the feels and sympathy for Pam. B.A.D.D. is still very much a parody of the original conspiracy theorists and ultra conservatives, but with pitch perfect writing and direction, it ascends to much greater heights, and is hilarious as it is heartbreaking. By the time it ends, Pam will almost certainly have become one of the most memorable characters this fringe, and Marx’s incredible performance will have you haunted by nightmares of pink pantsuits and Christian conservatives for many nights to come. One of our Fringe Favourites this festival for sure.


B.A.D.D. plays at The Studio (The Vaults) till 5 March. Tickets available here . You can keep up with Hermetic Arts and Carrie Marx at their Twitters @Hermetic_Arts and @carriemarx

And that wraps up our coverage of the VAULT Festival! Special shoutout to Sean Harwood from Full Fat PR and Alex Levene and the rest of the Front of House team at The Vaults for making everything run so damn smoothly. They’ll be back early next year for their 2018 season, but for now, keep watching out for all of these amazing artists as they progress in their careers and continue to develop more outstanding work.

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