By this point, I’ve practically made a career of seeing and reviewing Sex T-Rex’s fantasy parody epic Swordplay, which is currently playing at the Factory Theatre as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival. It’s the sort of play I saw initially at Fringe 2015, then took a friend to see, then bought tickets for my mother to see (conveniently with me), etc. Turns out, I’m still finding excuses to see this wild, chaotic, hilarious rush of a play again and again.
Think The Princess Bride meets Game of Thrones meets Three Musketeers. Then add in boatloads of cartoony action, a full menu of wildly inventive stage acrobatics, a dash of wry humour and a ton of loving parody. That’s what you get with the story of Barnabus and Salvatore, played by Conor Bradbury and Seann Murray respectively, two disgraced knights who must dust off their swords to rescue Princess Pimpernel (Kaitlyn Morrow) from the evil Baron Thorne. But nothing is quite as it seems in this Final Fantasy-esque tale, which is told in the form of 8-bit ‘graphics’ and videogame tropes on top of everything else it pulls from.
The show operates as a madcap send-up of fantasy tropes, while also crafting its own fully enjoyable fantasy yarn that pulls the best from all its myriad of references and repurposes them to unexpected and often hysterical effect. The show is energy, energy, energy, with foam swords flying every which way, explosions galore, massive cinematic action scenes and all the swashbuckling you could possibly handle–and all, mostly and most delightfully, without the use of props. Instead, Swordplay creates its manic action and high adventure through clever stagework, 8-bit cut-outs, and willing bodies.
Simply put, it’s a riot from start to finish–and seeing it multiple times, as I must admit somewhat self-consciously I have done, only rewards you with its attention to detail in foreshadowing many of its zany twists.
This version of Swordplay is being billed as an expanded version, with about fifteen extra minutes of material. From what I can remember–I haven’t seen it THAT many times–this seems to comprise a few more jokes, a few more asides, and at least one new major scene. Maybe it’s a testament to how well-oiled the show is that, aside from one obviously added flashback, the additions don’t stand out as much as gel in nicely with the whole.
Ultimately, Swordplay is a testament to the strong ensemble work of its cast: Conor Bradbury, Julian Frid, Katilin Morrow, Jon Blair and Seann Murray. It’s evident they’ve been putting this show on for a while, and their camaraderie and friendly, teasing energy on stage elevates their parody into a warm, funny, and good-hearted good time.
Much like the Princess Bride-style opening, which sees a grandfather visiting his sick young grandson with an ‘ancient’ Nintendo cartridge, returning to the show is like returning to a beloved feel-good book or movie, something you’re sure won’t disappoint in making you feel good. So please–go see Swordplay! Please, please, go see it! It’s exactly the sort of loving, good-hearted, goofball adventure you need on a chilly winter’s day.
- All Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets for Mainstage and Studio shows are $15 and Ante-chamber performances are $10
- Showtimes and ticket information are available at fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/
- Content Advice: Strong language, sexual content, graphic violence and depictions of sexual assault.
Photo of Julian Frid, Conor Bradbury, and Kaitlin Morrow by Matt Duboff.