The Push Festival – Vancouver
Until February 5th
Since 2003, The PuSH International Performing Arts Festival has been bringing innovative and audacious performing arts from around the world. Sometimes they are a revelatory and sometimes they are merely a curiosity but they are unlike anything you have ever seen before.
Backstage a Biscuit Land is from the U.K. and personal and joyous show about Jess Thom an inspirational woman with Tourette’s syndrome. She tells us right off the top that she is going to say “biscuit” and “hedgehog” a lot and explains that the gloves she is wearing are because she has a physical tic as well that makes her thump her chest.
Joining her on stage is actress Jess Mable Jones who does not have Tourette’s but playfully engages with Ms. Thom as they act out a series of stories and sketches that celebrate the joys of unexpected creativity.
The setting for the show is inspired by one of Ms. Thom’s tics. It features a four ducks dressed at Tyrannosaurus Rex, a circular saw, a picture of Mother Teresa, AstroTurf and other wild and surreal pieces.
Because of the randomness of the tics the show takes unexpected turns and our actors quickly incorporate them into the show or just give a sly smile and a chuckle.
Ms. Thoms also tells us she might have a fit and that a nurse is standing by and Ms. Jones has a scripted piece that will be inserted into the show should it happen.
This cautionary measure adds high tension and a huge amount of empathy and makes the show a thrilling one to experience.
Jess Thoms is not going to let her affliction define her. She is going to keep sharing her humour, her stories both sad and funny and her effervescent charm with the world. There is a lot to admire and learn from that. I loved this show.
Revenge of the Popijay
Anthony Johnson has created with the help of Nathan Schwartz a dramatic piece of anarchy that is emotionally involving, highly original and a little distancing.
The story starts out with Mr. Johnson sharing heartfelt remembrances of his deceased sister and then jumps to a serial killer called Gaylord the Ripper who is murdering and dismembering straight people in New York city.
As our guide starts to shed clothing we also meet his new boyfriend, a rather abrasive therapist and a punk rap star named Popijay. The rapper sings provocative songs about bashing gay bashers and as someone who has been attacked and reads about crimes being perpetrated against people just for being gay it was viciously cathartic to hear the lyrics.
The play is audacious, daring and there is a clearly passion and pain driving the performance.
At the same time the one man show with music keeps peeling back layers and doubling back on itself and offering alternative viewpoints that became a little distancing and in the end I was not sure the journey our hero had been though.
Still the point of PuSH is to push the boundaries and when you lead character is cover in blood and guts while standing in his underwear holding an octopus you know you are clearly outside the box and that is always a journey worth taking.
David C Jones