Roller Derby Saved My Soul (Broken Turtle Productions) 2014 Toronto Fringe Review

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Roller Derby Saved My Soul gives it all away in the title, a bit – it’s a story of a girl who discovers roller derby and finds herself. Ho hum. Be warned, though – don’t underestimate this Toronto Fringe Festival show. As I left Tarragon Extraspace late tonight, I left anything but ho hum – I found it thoroughly delightful.

There’s no other word for it: this show is just really charming. Nancy Kenny plays the adorably nerdy and not especially self-confident Amy, who – after a birthday trip to see a roller derby bout – develops a crush on one of the players and decided to try out. This, despite being not terribly athletic and previously rather risk-averse. Kenny plays it with enough savvy and dimension to avoid the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trap, but the character she creates has many of the things that make that archetype work, from the kneesocks on up.

Kenny skates as she narrates for much of the performance, doing things on roller skates that I doubt I could manage in my sneakers and doing a surprisingly credible impression of someone with no idea what she’s doing at first (an impression to which she gives lie as the show progresses). Looking like a beginner at something you’re good at is weirdly hard, but Kenny does well here. The emotional trajectory of the story isn’t, you know, especially wide, but she makes the most of it and by the time the inevitable self-loathing appears I don’t even feel like rolling my eyes.

Kenny’s physicality and bodily fluency also really deserve notice, as does her choreographer Patricia Allison. It would have been easy to let this be a talking head show, and I wouldn’t have minded, but the movement parts add a significant layer to the work – it really feels polished, like everyone has brought her A game. A big treat for a Fringe show.

At the end, “saved my soul” felt like a bit of an oversell for the narrative of the show I saw. Roller Derby Helped Me Find My Self-Confidence doesn’t really have the same ring, though. Still, I imagine roller derby in Toronto is about to experience a surge of new fans. Kenny has a new fan in me, that’s for sure.

Details

Roller Derby Saved My Soul plays at Tarragon Extraspace, 30 Bridgeman Ave

show times
July 07 at 06:45 PM
July 08 at 10:30 PM
July 09 at 09:15 PM
July 10 at 07:30 PM
July 11 at 12:00 PM
July 12 at 01:45 PM

Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.

LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS.
 To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.

Photo of Nancy Kenny by Richard Gilmore