I didn’t really know what to expect from Kerploding Theatre’s Gremlin Hour playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival KidsFest. The description was pretty vague. I knew it was Gremlins seeking help at a meeting of Gremlins – that’s us, the audience – and there would be no spooking.
What I got was a surprisingly layered play that explored the challenges of living up to the rules and expectations that we feel others have for us. It had laughs and poignant moments for me as an adult and was very obviously and boisterously enjoyed by the kids around me in the audience.
Grox (Liz Johston) and Grom (Bryce Hodgson) are no longer able to fulfil their Gremlin duty of spooking Hazel (Hana Holubec) because she doesn’t care about anything anymore, doesn’t feel anything anymore and just wants to sleep all the time. They have called us all together to try and get our help in solving this issue.
Alex Kolanko’s script (with additional writing by Chris Leveille) does an impressive job of juxtaposing silly antics of the Gremlins with a painfully accurate feeling depiction of childhood depression. I’m someone who experienced depression as a kid, so seeing it on stage, hearing it described so clearly, was a bit of a gut-punch. But even though it left me a bit off-balance, it still worked for me. And, it certainly was working for the kids around me.
One of the things I really appreciate in a kid’s show is when it’s enjoyable for both adults and kids, and this one is. Molison Farmer’s direction gave us a piece filled with physical comedy which the kids seemed to adore, and the chemistry between the actors as they delivered clever jokes for adults was a joy to watch.
Hodgson’s ability to charm the audience with his physical comedy was a sight to behold. One kid behind me couldn’t get enough of him. Johston’s comedic timing is fantastic. Holubec does an incredible job switching between the roles of Hazel and Groz in the blink of an eye.
Simone Ferkul’s set was simple but effective. Sparse furnishings including a bed and side table were immediately evocative of a young girl’s bedroom, but still left lots of room on the stage for all of that physical play.
I didn’t love everything about the show. It felt a bit long to me for a kids show, and there were things that I would have been happy to have seen cut out and others tightened up to have a shorter production. But nothing that was a deal breaker for me.
My one big issue was the sound. Overall the sound cues were very loud. So loud that you couldn’t really hear the actors on stage. But my problem with it is bigger than that. I know a lot of kids (mine included) who have trouble with loud sounds.
The show starts with very loud music, then more very loud competing music overlapping that, then more overlapping that. It is a cacophony of discordant sounds. It was literally hurting me, and I can only imagine that if I had my kids with me, they would have insisted we leave. I feel like the same joke could have been made at about half the volume. I still wouldn’t have enjoyed it, but it wouldn’t have been physically painful.
But the show is worth pushing through that painful beginning. Ultimately the message I got from it was you don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not. Be yourself, not who you think your parents, or your Gremlin Council, wants you to be. It’s a message that’s worth exploring with kids.
This review is based on the July 3rd, 2019 preview performance of the production.
- Gremlin Hour plays at the George Ignatieff Theatre. (15 Devonshire Pl.)
- Tickets for Kidsfest shows are $5 for kids (age 12 and younger); adults pay $13.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warning: audience participation.
- The George Ignatieff Theatre is wheelchair-accessible, and has wide aisles for easy mid-show exits.
- Don’t miss the Kidsfest club located on the lawn adjacent to the venue! Free activities for children (3-12) and caregivers run every day of the festival: see website for details.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Wednesday July 3rd, 4:15 pm
- Friday July 5th, 1:45 pm
- Sunday July 7th, 3:30 pm
- Tuesday July 9th, 11:00 am
- Thursday July 11th, 2:30 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 10:30 am
- Sunday July 14th, 4:15 pm
Illustration by Mirka Loiselle, Graphic Design by Christo Graham