The fate of salmon, doomed at the end of their legendary migrations upstream to spawn in their home waters, can be a source of great drama. Upstream Downtown, currently playing in the Toronto Fringe Festival at the St. Vladimir Institute, thanks to the efforts of the Animacy Theatre Collective, shows this. Through an inventive combination of physical humour, ingenious costuming, and a canny grasp of theatre space, Upstream Downtown emerges as an original hour of theatre well worth seeing.
The protagonists of Upstream Downtown are Sojo (Morgan Johnson) and Beagle (Alexandra Simpson), separated from their kin in the course of their migration through Lake Ontario when they run into the city of Toronto. How can they get used to so much dry land? How can they pay their rent? What will become of them? As they explore their strange new world, the audience comes to see our world through their eyes.
Johnson and Simpson are key to the success of Upstream Downtown. As Sojo and Beagle, they are a perfect odd couple, Sojo the more energetic and experimental, Beagle the more serious and careful. As each engages with our realm of dry land and chairs and foot coverings and landlord’s notices of rent increases, each actor does a great job making their confusion with each new thing funny. The friendship between Sojo and Beagle, though, is the emotional centre of this show. Johnson and Simpson sell this friendship to the audience, with just the right combinatiom of exasperation with the others’ long-standing foibles and concern for the well-being of their companion.
As importantly, Upstream Downtown is technically excellent theatre. Tightly directed by Martha Ross, this show runs smoothly, to the degree that the lights flared and dimmed as in perfect timing with the performers. Projected photographs, used to evoke different elements of salmon life, were likewise effective, as was the music composed and performed by Anders Azzopardi and Stefan Hegarat. Upstream Downtown is a show that makes use of many different elements to achieve its effect, and it pulls it off perfectly.
Upstream Downtown is ingenious theatre. In the space of an hour, the Animacy Theatre Collective gave a lucky audience not just a taste of the salmon spawning grounds of the Don in the hall of St. Vladimir’s, but a fun story of novelty and struggle that the audience can enjoy. Theatre fans interested in fun shows that experiment will find much to enjoy here.
- Upstream Downtown is playing until July 15 at the St. Vladimir Institute. (620 Spadina Avenue)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
- July 6th at 6:45 pm
- July 7th at 1:45 pm
- July 8th at 3:30 pm
- July 9th at 1:00 pm
- July 11th at 7:30 pm
- July 11th at 11:00 pm
- July 15th at 4:30 pm
Photo of Morgan Johnson and Alexandra Simpson by Fee Gun.