Duotang Chesterfield’s Mystery Theatre LIVE (playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival) is built around a podcast by the same name, and that’s the crux of the problem. Billed as a sort of backstage comedy set in the world of old-timey radio serials, the scripts are interesting and the actors handle them well, but — at the risk of sounding entirely too blunt — why is this on a stage?
In simple terms, not much happens. The actors read competently into what look like dead microphones; Nicole Byblow accompanies on keyboard; at intermission there’s a musical number, but I found it fell out of the sky, as if I was watching the news and the anchor suddenly broke into an Andrews Sisters tribute, then settled down to finish reading the headlines. Not to say the singing was bad, I’m just not clear as to why.
And it would work as a podcast. These sorts of musical breaks are entirely canonical and fit within the universe that the Duotang Chesterfield team have constructed — but on stage, it feels like playing for time. It feels like they’re trying to liven up a show which isn’t holding the audience’s attention on points alone. It feels like cheating.
There are moments of spice — on the night we saw it, a member of the company was fired at intermission, and the narrator had a revelatory phone call as the studio cleared after the broadcast — but these situations are blink-and-you-miss-it brief, left unresolved, and seem to suggest that, as with a radio serial, we need to tune in next week (or, in this case, pay $10 and come back tomorrow) to see what happens next. And even if you’ve got a real hit on your hands, expecting people to come back 7 more times in order to follow your story is asking a hell of a lot from an audience.
If you’re into radio serials, you may have just discovered your new favourite podcast. If you’re into this company, hey, the live show’s a neat novelty. But if you don’t fall into either of these groups, I don’t think there’s much here. It’s not that the actors are incompetent or the serials themselves are poorly-written, it’s just not apparent to me what the staging is meant to add or contribute to the experience.
- Duotang Chesterfield’s Mystery Theatre Live is playing until July 12th at the Randolph Theatre. (736 Bathurst St)
- Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the peformance. Venue sales are cash-only.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.
July 04 at 08:45 PM
July 06 at 04:45 PM
July 08 at 08:45 PM
July 09 at 01:45 PM
July 10 at 07:30 PM
July 12 at 12:00 PM
Production photograph by Josef Beeby.