This past weekend Mooney on Theatre sent its dedicated team of 30 writers and editors to cover all 148 shows* in this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival! With the sheer number of shows available at the festival, picking the ones you want to see can be a daunting task.
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the number of shows and you’re looking for a place to start, we’ve asked our staff to tell us about their favourite shows they’ve seen at this year’s festival. We hope our staff picks can help you navigate the Fringe.
If you’ve seen something you think is amazing that you think others should go see please let us know by leaving a comment.
Mooney on Theatre Staff Picks – 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival
Vance Brews was blown away by King of the Castle. The raw and challenging nature of the piece hit really close to home for him but also told a powerful and unflinching story about childhood trauma and the cost of growing up. With fantastic performances and great direction it’s a satisfying (if emotionally draining) show well worth your 12 dollars.
Wayne Leung thought Bright Lights was one of the smartest, most uproariously funny and best-performed shows he has seen at the Toronto Fringe in recent years. This dark comedy about an alien abduction support group features a clever and wickedly funny script by Kat Sandler as well as impeccable performances by a cast of seasoned comedic actors. Book your tickets now before they’re all sold out!
Dorianne Emmerton recommends Rowing, but only for those who can handle violence and deep dark psychological drama. A tolerance for creepy, musty basements is also a must for this site-specific show. The Westdale rowing team’s sad excuse for a party explores the effects of toxic masculinity in the context of the rather obscure, but wonderfully metaphoric, sport of rowing.
Mike Anderson has had an amazing fringe so far, but can’t get Like A Generation out of his head. It won’t connect with everyone, but if you’re sympathetic to a message about generational frustration, this one will stay with you.
Randy McDonald considers himself lucky that he got to see the debut of Kneel! Diamond Dogs at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Michael Posthumus’ performance as a man drawn by the spirits, and music, of Neil Diamond and David Bowie into the world is a work of theatrical genius. That it also makes clear just how good it can be for someone to be a fan is a lovely bonus. Kneel! Diamond Dogs is great theatre with a message that goes straight to the viewer’s heart, a must-see.
Lin Young went wild for Curious Contagious, the surrealist fairytale playing at the Factory Theatre. It’s one of the most original visual feasts she’s ever had the pleasure of seeing. Wildly inventive and masterfully composed by two skilled puppeteers, this shadow puppet show is unlike anything she’s seen before.
Chris Klippenstein encourages, implores, and urges you to see Promise and Promiscuity: A New Musical by Jane Austen and Penny Ashton. It’s hilarious, it’s heaps of fun, and it’s a one-woman musical with a full cast of Jane Austen-style characters. Chris fell in love with this show harder than a defiant Austen heroine with a socially unsuitable standoffish man, and she thinks you will too.
Catherine Jan wants you to hear the pitch to preserve your brain by the company Cryoncor at Let Me Freeze Your Head. She thinks you need this chance at everlasting life to make up for lost time. You’ll not only be swayed by Cryoncor’s most passionate advocate to reawaken after death with a new body, but you’ll also revise your bucket list and re-think your ideas about work, relationships and technology.
Ashima Suri recommends the Toronto Fringe Show, Collapse. In this one-man solo show, Ryan Dillon steals the audiences heart with his touching, yet funny, journey of what it was like to grow up wanting to be liked by everybody. With strong story-telling and great comedic timing, the show will leave you pondering the question, ‘Am I a people pleaser?’ This is a thought-provoking show that is a must-see at this years Fringe.
Samantha Wu loves the story of Demeter and her daughter Persephone and Persephone’s decent into Hades. The team at Pencil Kit Productions have done fine work in bringing this story to life using spoken word, movement, sound, dance, projections and audio in a grand piece of physical theatre. Across the board, from the visuals to the acting and the dance, this is an impressive show to watch. Go see it.
Nicole Hunnersen recommends for the record. The story, about a relationship between a mother and her daughter, is told with the help of a lot of awesome music. The show takes place in a very cool record store, which is an interesting change from the traditional theatre setting. Music plays a big part in our memories and this show related that through a series of scenes that were both funny and poignant! The cast was excellent and the production was nearly flawless. This is a show that I will be thinking about for a very long time!
Fernanda Sierra loved the intensity of Echoes: A New Musical. With solos, duets and ensemble numbers, this show explores the heart-aching themes of war throughout history. Beautifully and powerfully sung melodies make this show artistic and solemn. She thinks the show’s hymns will resonate with a variety of audiences and shouldn’t be missed.
Madeleine Copp can’t stop thinking about little fires. Everything from the movement to the music to the concept left a lasting impression on this reviewer. Two dances about instinct, animals, line-ups and individuality combine into one fun and funny hour that lights up the stage. There’s a significance to the stories these pieces tell that sneaks up on you and makes you smile. Don’t worry about getting burned, little fires is dance at its absolute best.
Jess Gillis had a hard time deciding on her favourite Fringe show this year, but ultimately has to choose Dance Animal: Toronto. She’s never seen a show quite like it before. Combining awesome music, dance, storytelling, and BIG personality made for a hilariously fun experience she won’t soon forget. Part homage to Drake, part homage to the things we love to hate about Toronto, and ALL contagious energy, Dance Animal: Toronto is a show she would definitely see again.
Allison Gerson really loved Blind To Happiness, a one-man show in which Tim C. Murphy plays three very different men. Each man thinks the others are happy, but they are all struggling with sadness, failed relationships, and loss. Murphy’s ability to portray such a range of characters with minimal costume changes is impressive.The dialogue is tight, intelligent, and very moving. It’s also really funny. You might shed a tear. Allison did.
Ilana Lucas wants to plug the show that made her laugh the hardest: Sex T-Rex’s WasteLand. Riotous physical comedy and a story that actually manages to pull off some surprising and touching twists, despite being a genre parody. It’s just such fun.
Stephen Lubin thinks that Crux, being put on at the Boulderz Climbing Gym, is the most fun he has had at the theatre in a long time. It’s a fantastic example of how site-specific theatre can really elevate a show. The script’s a bit cheesy, but the context provided by performing the play in a climbing gym really allows it to thrive. This show is just tons and tons of fun. It doesn’t take itself seriously and just asks that everyone involved enjoy themselves.
Jeff Kerr loved Behold, The Barfly! and thinks you will too! The show is a sketch revue in the style of Carol Burnett, and had the house bursting with laughter throughout the night. The sketches are framed as the dreams of a whiskey-soaked barfly and leaves nothing on the table as it goes to some pretty dark places to magical comedic effect. If you like your Fringe farcical and funny, Behold, The Barfly! is yours to discover.
Saba Akhtar really loved Cam Baby. As she mentioned in her review, she loved the fast-paced humour and smart references to internet culture. As the internet would say, it left her feeling “all the things”. All the actors gave an outstanding performance and great chemistry on stage. You could really tell they were having fun and enjoyed working with one another. Tickets seem to be running out fast for this one! So catch it as fast as you can!
Sam Mooney is still thinking about The Fence. She loved it. The talent on stage practically took her breath away. Written by the same women who wrote last year’s Summerland, and featuring many of the same performers, it’s bright and fresh. The songs are fabulous, the choreography is wonderful, and the dancing is fabulous.
Clarrie Feinstein would highly recommend that Fringe goers see Falling Awake at Tarragon Theatre. The performances of the two actors will completely immerse you in an absurdist play on dream and reality states. The show has minimal dialogue, but the miming, clowning, object manipulation, and illusions will capture your attention. RAGMOP theatre gives you a truly unique show with unforgettable imagery. Plus, it’s extremely funny! What more could you ask for?
Cassandra Witteman is recommending Elektra to anyone who’ll listen. A skillful cast brings this classic tale of murder and revenge to life. It’s an intimate and dark portrait of the battle between good and a evil and it’s well worth a look, but bring some tissues.
*The 148 shows we covered include all venue, site-specific, and FringeKids! shows. We cover Shed Shows and the presentations in Visual Fringe separately, although all Shed Show reviews are included in our full review index.
Photo credits: Toronto Fringe Festival