Love and daring on the high seas has never been staged like this. Mixing Canadian history with spoken-word and a live soundscape, Frivolous Fools Performance’s The Hudson Bay Epic is a spectacle driven by inspired performances.
Directed by Lindsey Zess-Funk, The Hudson Bay Epic tells the (supposed) legend of a forbidden romance that bloomed onboard Henry Hudson’s ill-fated voyage to find the north-west passage. A woman has stowed on board the Discovery under the guise of Andrew (Geneviève Paré). Andrew’s double-identity, however, becomes compromised when (s)he grows close with Tom (Ian McFarlane), a writer-poet. Taken for a young boy by the other crew members, Andrew and Tom’s budding relationship soon invites suspicion. Tensions rise when the Discovery becomes stranded in ice. Tom begins to question if he is in love with Andrew as (s)he is or the promise that she is a woman underneath her disguise. And Andrew cannot come to terms with her own identity. As they struggle to find answers, the crew soon become starved for mutiny.
The production’s set is the bow of a wooden ship, made out of junk materials. At first sight, the junk materials – fire extinguishers, a garbage bin – are aesthetically interesting. It is not until the show is full swing, though, that we are able to truly appreciate the true ingenuity of the set. Essentially, the set is one large instrument, comprised of smaller parts, which the actors use to conduct a soundscape that takes us into action of the play. In one instance, the actors rub strings which are located inside the ship’s wheel with bows to give a sense of danger in the atmosphere.
The ambience that the actors are able to create is simply fantastic. They allow us to hear whales in the distance and the boat rocking against the ocean waves. It is truly an experience to be heard.
The various crew members on board the Discovery are played by Paré, McFarlane, and Ryan Reese. The actors’ transitions from one character to the next are smooth. They bring enough color and life to each character that it makes it easy for the audience to tell who we are watching at the moment. Paré and McFarlane are great fun to watch because of their various peculiar mannerisms, traits, and vocal expressions they commit themselves to. Paré is particularly capable of accents. And although Reese does not have any speaking roles, he still brings plenty of energy and expression to his performance, provoking a lot of laughter from the audience.
It is important to add that Reese performs many of the instrumental noise that accompanies Paré and McFarlane’s scenes together. His skills as a percussionist are excellent.
Paré and McFarlane deliver the script, which they co-wrote, in a spoken-word format. Combined with the elements of the soundscape, the script is beautiful to hear. Yet, there are moments when the script trades its more poetic qualities for colloquialisms. The change tone is jarring against the initial tone we become accustomed to from the start of the show.
On that note, the Lantern Church Sanctuary works against the actors. The sound seems to travel up, making some parts of the dialogue hard to hear. It is also a matter of projection, perhaps, as this issue is not so noticeable in the latter half of the show.
The strength of this production is that its creative elements do not serve as a distraction for a lacking story. The story is captivating and so are the elements that come together to tell it. Ultimately, Frivolous Fools Performance’s The Hudson Bay Epic delivers on all fronts thanks to three performers committed to their craft, making this production a must-see.
Frivolous Fools Performance’s The Hudson Bay Epic runs Aug 1-9th at the Calgary Fringe Festival.
For more information about the show and how to buy tickets, visit: http://see.calgaryfringe.ca/events/435-the-hudson-bay-epic