Rolls has been a regular fixture around the Toronto Fringe with shows like 2015’s The Inventor of All Things, where he zeroes in on his latest topic of fascination and riffs about it from every angle. This time, it’s idiocy – mine, yours, humanity’s in general. Rolls’ hour-long monologue is part storytelling, part poetry. He’s coined a new phrase for his style of show, in fact: “verbal bouffant.” I hope the term catches on.
With an empty stage and minimal props, Rolls’ ideas are the focus and he presents them with a rhythmic cadence, finely choreographed right down to small hand gestures. He reveals to his audience that he’s figured out what caused the Big Bang, which I certainly won’t spoil for you here. He spends a bit of time apologizing to all of his atoms for being stuck with him as a body. Speaking of apologizing: Rolls–a Brit–also pokes a bit of fun at Canada’s tendency to apologize for everything. Sorry we say “sorry” so much, Jem!
Rolls’ intelligence bursts off the stage–he claims to have read the dictionary and all of Wikipedia, and honestly, I wouldn’t doubt it. He’s a cross between a college professor with first-day-of-school energy and that guy you overhear at Starbucks raving about the state of the world.
The pace is frenetic–sometimes too much so, as some of his rather perceptive ideas don’t have time to sit and land with the audience before we’re off to the next. For example, I was quite struck by his comment that an imperfect memory is better than a perfect one, because a perfect one would be simply exhausting. I didn’t have a second to unpack that thought until I was on the streetcar going home.
Still, watching Jem Rolls onstage is witnessing Fringe Festival talent at its purest: a lone artist standing under a spotlight sharing his artistry with you.
The show was a late addition to this year’s festival, so you won’t find it the Fringe program. That means he needs all the publicity he can get, so tweet this review, please, or at least the link on the Fringe website. Even with only word-of-mouth publicity, Rolls’ reputation proceeds him – if you’ve enjoyed his past shows, you’ll be in for a similar experience in Jem Rolls: I, IDIOT.
- Jem Rolls: I, IDIOT plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. (16 Ryerson Ave.)
- 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 Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warning: Mature language.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible. Accessible seating is in the front row.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Friday July 6th, 8:15 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 6:45 pm
- Sunday July 8th, 1:00 pm
- Monday July 9th, 4:00 pm
- Tuesday July 10th, 10:15 pm
- Wednesday July 11th, 8:15 pm
- Thursday July 12th, 1:00 pm
- Sunday July 15th, 12:30 pm
Photo of Jem Rolls, taken by self.