Curious Contagious (Mind of a Snail Puppet Co.) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Jessica Gabriel.

A giant white sheet stretches from one end of the Factory Mainspace to the other. Two overhead projectors sit in front of it. When the lights go down and the title card for Curious Contagious flits across the sheet and a city stretches out in cut-out shadows, it’s evident that something special has come to the Toronto Fringe Festival.

More accurately, something special has come back.

In this unique shadow puppet show, a unicorn looking for corporate success gets approval to build a doughnut factory. Whilst on the job, he suffers a cut that gets infected by two viruses. In a fantastical journey, these two viruses search for purpose and meaning as they traverse his bloodstream. This surrealist biological fairy tale is carried out with casual mastery by Mind of A Snail Co., two returning favourites from last year’s Fringe, and it’s every bit as inventive as their last offering.

Chloé Ziner and Jessica Gabriel are master storytellers, and their unique brand of shadow puppetry—projections using those old fashioned overheads that might send you flashing back to highschool, if you’re a child of the 90s like me—is unlike anything you’re likely to have seen.

A combination of live-action and puppetry paints surrealist landscapes on a plain white sheet: an urban ‘zoo’-topia of mythic creatures, a forest of veins spreading through the lungs, canyons and caverns made from internal organs. All of it is awash in colour and imagination, and scored with gorgeous atmospheric music.

What’s especially impressive is their ability to manipulate perspective. The shadow puppetry here is aided by dozens of dynamic angles and cinematic pans, which stretches and augments reality in equal turns. Often, it feels like we’re in an early animated movie; other times, the strings are allowed to show just enough to let us witness Chloé Ziner and Jessica Gabriel’s fluid skill with their puppets. Scenes transition in real-time, colours fading into one another to reveal new scenes, with a variety of tricks employed to create new and adventurous visuals on the sheet.

Paired with the puppetry are some funny physical gags, with Chloé Ziner and Jessica Gabriel shuffling around like witless viruses on a quest for purpose—if only they could put their heads together and figure out what that means. Dialogue is minimal, but there’s a really great running gag that I won’t spoil with a rogue narrator.

All of it is completely transporting, atmospheric in strange and wonderful ways that feel almost like a dream: a virus’ existential crisis, a unicorn’s urban angst, all told through shadow puppets! If you feel like all of that sounds just a little too weird for you, don’t worry: it throws you into this strange wonderland of infection-fantasy with warmth and humour and inventiveness.

This lovely poetic strangeness is exactly up my alley, and it’s hard not to marvel at the sheer artistry involved. Please give it a shot: it’s a truly one-of-a-kind show that deserves full houses every night.

Details:

  • Curious Contagious plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace. (125 Bathurst St)
  • Tickets are $10 at the door, $12 in advance. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
  • Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
  • This venue is wheelchair-accessible by use of an alternate route. Please arrive early and speak with the House Manager.

Performances:

  • Friday July 1st, 03:00 pm
  • Saturday July 2nd, 09:15 pm
  • Tuesday July 5th, 01:15 pm
  • Wednesday July 6th, 07:30 pm
  • Thursday July 7th, 05:15 pm
  • Friday July 8th, 12:00 pm
  • Saturday July 9th, 04:00 pm
Photo by: Chloe Ziner. Pictured: Jessica Gabriel.

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