Tomes (Secretly Illiterate Theatre) 2013 Toronto Fringe Review


Tomes is like a party game for theatre people.  The Rules: 1. Select a cheesy fantasy paperback at random.  2. Read only the back cover.  3. Act out a made-up-on-the-spot version of the plot.  If you show up at St. Vladimir’s Theatre to see Secretly Illiterate Theatre’s Toronto Fringe show, that’s exactly what you’re in for.

The premise is pure genius, and I knew I wanted to see this offbeat little improv sketch comedy show.  There is so much potential for zany antics—and I do love zany antics.

I have to get this off my chest:  as a theatrical venue, I despise the St. Vladimir’s Theatre.  Neither the stage nor the audience seating is raked, so if you happen to be in the very back or you find yourself behind an outrageously tall person, you’re not going to have a particularly good view of the stage.  So… get in there fast, people! (Without hurting anyone, of course.)

The show is pretty much what you’d imagine it to be given the concept.  The randomly chosen book for the evening was a fantasy novel about a wise healer named Gideon who is exiled from a kingdom because he seduces some demon’s daughter.  Years later he returns to claim his love and secure his fortunes and blah, blah, blah…

On its own, the plot of this book is ridiculous enough.  When the cast reads the back cover for the first time (out loud), the audience is already in hysterics.  Like me, I’m sure they are all eagerly anticipating all sorts of crazy improvised shenanigans.

The cast is comprised of the following individuals: Justin Kossi, Erin Marchak, Candace Meeks, Mike Riverso, Joan Patch, Phillip Scott and Doug Sheppard.  They are all highly energetic and quick on their feet.  For the most part, the comedy moves along rather nicely, and there are some great laughs.

There are, unfortunately, also a few awkward patches.  They do not last long because the cast quickly recovers, but they do last long enough for us to notice the recovery.  To be fair, though, that is often part of the joke.  The audience understands the pressure that the performers are under to keep the story moving forward and bring on the laughs, so when cast members swoop in to save a dying joke, the save itself is funny!

I didn’t laugh as much as I expected to, but I can’t fault the concept or the performances; most of the audience was in hystertics. It’s really just about my sense of humour and how I responded to the specific content of the evening.  I would certainly go see it again.  It is luck of the draw whether the book that is chosen and the shenanigans that ensue are up your alley.

I will say this, though… the set-up is indeed brilliant and the cast is committed.  There is a nice camaraderie between cast and audience that is established early on as we all are hearing the plot of the novel for the first time.  It’s like we’re accomplices in some grand scheme—aiding and abetting these goofy people with their theatrical party game.


  • Tomes is playing at the St. Vladimir’s Theatre (620 Spadina Ave.).
  • Performances:
    July 5 – 9:15pm
    July 6 – 4:00pm
    July 8 – 6:30pm
    July 10 – 4:15pm
    July 11 – 9:15pm
    July 12 – 12:30am
    July 14 – 1:00pm
  • Individual Fringe tickets are available at the door for $10 ($5 for FringeKids), cash only. Late comers will not be permitted.
  • Advance tickets are $11 ($9 + $2 service charge) are available online at, by phone at 416-966-1062 ext 1,  or in person during the festival at the Festival Box Office in the parking lot behind Honest Ed’s (581 Bloor St W).
  • Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows

Photo of Erin Marchak, Justin Kosi and Joan Patch by Harley Balabanian