After yet another week of dispiriting news and global turmoil, I organized a little escape with my office mates to go and see Dr Strange in 4DX. Long is a business associate as well as a friend and I invited her along, as we had theatre tickets that evening. Dr Strange is worthy of a review of its own (the Coles/Cliff notes: the film is great, the visuals are remarkable and if you are a fan of 3D it is worthy fodder for the tech. The added 4DX is frankly distracting but fun and I signed the group up as I thought only an over-the-top experience would justify the mid afternoon absence from work). We spilled out of the theatre and headed to the Princess of Wales Theatre for round two of the cultural extravaganza – a showing of “Cuisine & Confessions” by the 7 Fingers troupe.
7 Fingers is a collective of artists based on Montreal, and this show was billed as a cross pollination of acrobatics and cooking (two of my favourite things): the cut line for the show is “Come for the circus, stay for the banana bread”. What could be better?
The narrative of the show is based on true stories from the multi lingual and multi national cast, who hail from France, Argentina, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the United States. Before the action began the troupe wandered through the crowd offering wrapped chocolates and gummy bears to the audience and during the show, which is set in an elaborate kitchen, they prepared several meals including an omelette, pasta and the aforementioned banana bread in between their spoken word segments and acrobatics. Sounds great. And wasn’t.
The troubles were myriad, some technical some creative. Our seats were in the fifth row, a decision that seemed like it would be advantageous but turned out to be problematic as the slope of the seats was a very gentle one, so my view of the stage was largely obstructed by the tall woman sitting in front of me. The action itself was not generally coordinated and often the various cast members were performing independent tricks which could not be really absorbed across the broad scope of the stage and the result was a disjointed mishmash. I have seen great circuses (indeed the earlier, Guy La Liberte Cirque du Soleil shows may have spoiled me for acrobatics forever) and while some of the tumblers were talented it was not the best I have seen by a long shot. One segment seemed entirely to be comprised of a Finnish girl smearing chocolate pudding all over her face. Another featured a contortionist wriggling around in some flour. The sound was TERRIBLE – it seemed like everything was being panned into a pair of speakers sitting on the right and left sides of the stage and processed through a single microphone (think high school auditorium) and while the multinational aspect of the cast was interesting several of them had thick, almost impenetrable accents, so their individual stories were almost impossible to follow. At one point in time there was an Argentinian acrobat recounting a story of how his father was a Desaparecidos, an intellectual rebel affiliated with the communist party, who was arrested and interned in a concentration camp and then executed when the performer was a child of only eight months old. He performed acrobats in an interpretive homage to his missing father, a blank slate upon whom he created his own stories. It was moving and tragic but the audience around me were laughing at his tricks, unable to understand the depth of his words through his heavy accent. It was disturbing. There were a number of kids in the audience and I think many of the individual stories would have soared above their heads.
There were some interesting moments. The audience were asked to time the baking of the banana bread on their cell phones, so when it was ready to come out of the oven there were gentle chimes throughout the theatre which made for a lovely audio effect. Some of the acrobatics (especially the woman who did the silks) were fun to watch but the over arching effect was messy.
Long and I left the theatre asking each other “what the hell WAS that”? Often that is the mark of a good show, and I am left to analyze the effect the performance had on me for hours or days afterwards. No so in this case – as I write this I struggle to remember what half that acts were and I remember checking my watch several times in the show itself, not a great sign as it clocks in at about 90 minutes.
I applaud independent theatre companies like 7 Fingers and for places like Mirvish who showcase them but my own 7 fingers will remain wrapped around my wallet, and I will pass on buying a ticket next time around.