By Winston Soon
Stage Combat is sort of like the equivalent of theatrical gaming. And I’m going to be super upfront here: Dungeons and Dragons was never my thing. So I walked into True Edge Productions “Duel of Ages” at the Next Stage festival knowing nothing about the piece other than there was a strong possibility that I would see a duel or two. Or nine, as it turned out.
This is stage combat at its best, so no need to look for riveting narrative here. No strong connections to story or throrough plot-lines really. Just some witty banter, some clever set ups, a bit of narration, and some hard-core dueling. Duel of Ages is Stage Combat porn. And the crowd loved it.
If you are into historical reenactments then this is definitely the show for you. I’ll start with the dueling, as it only seems fair. So my guess is this show is filled with the country’s best stage combat duelers and the dueling was truly convincing. Particularly impressive was a reenactment of the first pistol duels that featured what seemed to be the loudest stage gun known to man. I honestly screamed at the first shot.
There was a narrative explanation of duels throughout the ages and around the world. We traveled from medieval France to Scottish clans to the Wild West to Japanese Samurai to a vaudevillian recreation of pistol dueling in the early 20th century. The fighting was great for the most part – it all worked. And if that wasn’t enough fight for your buck, the ending is a purely gratuitous martial arts style dance with techno music and back flipping ninjas. And the crowd loved it.
This show reads like a great show that you would see at a theme park: explanations of the duel, some quick fun dialogue with fun characters and then duel time. For me, I wondered what this much stage combat would look like with characters that an audience can connect to or a compelling storyline rather than fifteen-minute sketches.
Clearly this is not the objective of the show but I would love to watch duels about characters in which the audience truly has a stake. The Samurai scene toward the end comes close when the father teaches his son about Samurai fighting only to be killed by the British invading the country.
Beyond this I felt that some of the acting wasn’t the greatest – in some of the early French reenactments, a lot of the guys onstage affected a sort of British accent, but not all and the effect was sophomoric. Outside of the dueling, there wasn’t a ton of blocking – at times I felt like the actors were talking heads merely setting up the reasons for the duel.
Some scenes had me scratching my head as to motive and relationship. That said, the banter is witty: “Your swordsmanship is as fine as your wife’s.” “I can assure you, my wife has never held a sword in her life.” “Oh I can assure you she has often beaten me senseless.” And you guessed it, the crowd loved it.
The show does its absolute best to bring women into the mix – notable are the scenes of Errol Flynn and of La Maupin – but for the most part, there are a lot of guys and a lot of swords. And it needs to be said, a lot of fun. True Edge has put together a great review of swordplay and this show would really fly on a ship or at a theme park or a resort. And I can pretty much guarantee, the crowd is gonna love it.
–Duel of Ages was part of The Next Stage Theatre Festival and played at the Factory Theatre Studio Space at the corner of Bathurst and Adelaide until Sunday, January 16th.