Greeted by the most exceptional set I have ever seen at a Fringe show, I settled into a seat in a scant house at George Ignatieff Theatre for the performance of In The Trenches and marvelled. The trench runs across the stage cutting it into “our side,” “their side” – also known as the audience – and No-Man’s Land.
As you enter the theatre, the trench telegraphs that this is serious theatre; that time, effort and money has been put into its development. In the eponymous trench are nine soldiers, including Peter Sawyer, who also wrote and directed the play. It’s fitting he directed it – he plays Captain, and throughout the play tells the others what to do. To be precise, he plays the first, second and third Captain, since this character continually meets his problematic end.
If the set is the strength of this play, the weakness is the lack of narrative. Like trench warfare, this play eventually starts to feel stuck. It offers you moments into the lives of the soldiers, but they are only moments, and quite grim – we spend a great deal of time considering whether Fritz, the enemy, might try to attack.
One of the challenges to a nine person cast in a fringe performance is that it is hard to develop nine distinct characters in fifty minutes. Each character has one trait that gets highlighted: one takes bets from the others, one keeps a diary, one is only 18, one – actually named Fritz – is mocked for his name.
At such a fast pace, I found it hard to develop any real affection for most of the characters. Perhaps to combat this, or perhaps to make them more accessible, Sawyer has chosen to write the dialogue in contemporary English. There are frequent expletives, which I am not sure works as a choice, especially set against the somewhat difficult humour.
If I had to be stuck in a trench, I’d want to make sure Peek-A-Boo Pete, played by Greg Dunham, was there with me – this character was a great bright spot. Peek-A-Boo Pete is the oldest of the crew, and he’s survived because of his mix of pragmatism and wry humour. He’s always ready to offer a hand, and not afraid to argue with the Sergeant. His character brings life to the play, and his dancing at the end is a welcome opportunity to laugh – with him, to be sure, as his dancing is full of infectious good humor.
I would love to see this play take its time and let the audience settle in a bit. There are great moments here, but I found them too fleeting to build upon before the show was off to the next thing. This may be the rare instance where more would, in fact, be more.
Fri, July 8 7:00 PM
Sat, July 9 11:00 PM
Mon, July 11 2:45 PM
Tue, July 12 7:00 PM
Thu, July 14 9:45 PM
Fri, July 15 1:45 PM
Sun, July 17 3:30 PM
– All individual Fringe tickets are $10 ($5 for FringeKids) at the door (cash only).
– Advance tickets are $11, available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062, in person at The Randolph Centre for the Arts, 736 Bathurst Street
– Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows