In Yarn, playing as part of Toronto’s SummerWorks Festival, Alex Eddington — a composer who hasn’t written a decent song in months — explores a radical solution. And once he arrives on the far-flung Isle of Mull, primed for six months of hard labour as a hotel chambermaid in the hopes of clearing his creative block, two things happen.
In this land of ancient tales, standing stones, selkies and solitude, Eddington finds an important part of himself.
But surrounded by sudden death, indifferent nature, and only the voices in his own head to keep him company, he also begins to unravel.
His show seeks to put these pieces together, crafting a narrative from the frayed threads of his “summer in paradise”. (Don’t worry, that’s the final textile pun in this review — I promise!) So pull up a chair, settle in for some storytelling, and let the sun go down around you as he conjures up a storm.
Eddington, accompanying himself on several instruments (I counted 6, including vocal percussion, but I probably missed about twenty), mixes a linear narrative with a few come-from-away segments dealing with psychology, memory, storytelling and narration. Along with director and dramaturg Tyler Seguin, he seems to be aiming for self-deconstruction — an unreliable narrator exploring the idea of unreliable narration, that sort of thing — but I found this format disjointed, with too many elements tugging in too many directions.
I worry that I may have missed out on something: I often just didn’t understand how segments related to each other. And the sudden tonal change in the denouement, which neatly wraps up a lot of loose ends, felt to me like a cheat, as if the creators were aware they were losing people but couldn’t find a more elegant solution than leading us by the nose.
Phew. That’s off my chest. Now let me fix this show for you.
Don’t think about it. Just let it ride. Eddington’s a fantastic storyteller, especially if you can sit down in front and look him in the eyes. Live inside his stories; half-listen to the rest. Don’t look to the meta-content to buttress the stories, look to the stories to explain and explicate the meta-content. In essence, take this show in reverse, as a storytelling exercise with some neat things to say about narrative and memory and personality and the artistic process, rather than a show about these things specifically.
That’s how it worked for me, and that’s how I got over my grumbling to really get into this show. Majlis Art Garden’s surroundings are a considerable boost, all fairy lights and citronella candles — perhaps the show could have started an hour later to give Eddington full dramatic advantage of a setting sun? And Eddington’s use of electronics, particularly looping effects (which allow him to accompany himself on the same instrument he’s currently playing), aside from being pleasing and neat on their own merits, raise some fascinating meta-theatrical questions of their own. And when he whips out a blues guitar, man… that’s a show worth paying for.
Like I said, though: sit in front, sing along, connect with the performer, and feed off his energy. There’s a lot of value in this show — not just as a piece of entertainment, but as an analysis of art, identity and memory — but as with a composer facing an art-block, the more you struggle with it, the less you’ll get out of it. Chill out and let it wash over you; you’ll be glad you did.
Yarn plays the Majlis Art Garden (163 Walnut Ave.) through Sunday, August 17th.
Be aware that this venue is a fair way off the beaten path: you’ll need to walk up and down a bunch of streets to find it, so allow plenty of time to get there.
Friday August 8, 7:30pm
Saturday August 9, 7:30pm
Sunday August 10, 7:30pm
Tuesday August 12, 7:30pm
Wednesday August 13, 7:30pm
Thursday August 14, 7:30pm
Friday August 15, 7:30pm
Saturday August 16, 7:30pm
Sunday August 17, 7:30pm
All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, By phone by calling the Ticketwise Call Centre at 416-907-0468, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) August 5th-17th from 10AM – 7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows
Photograph of Alex Eddington provided by the SummerWorks Festival.