Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fringe Festival 2016: Great Day for Up

The second Fringe Festival show I saw yesterday, also at the Waterfront, was Electric Company Theatre's production of Great Day for Up. Originally written and performed by ECT Artistic Director Jonathon Young in 1996 as his graduating project from Studio 58, the company has revived the piece on the occasion of its 20th anniversary.

Great Day is a short Beckettian exploration of the limits of language, the materiality of objects, the body's estrangement from itself and its environment, and the meta-ness of the theatre. It showcases Young's immense talents as a physical performer, as well as ECT's trademark sensitivity to total theatrical design (the lighting is by Adrian Muir and the terrific sound score is by Owen Belton). Young plays an unnamed striver who climbs on stage through what looks like a roof-top skylight of the sort one would find on an old tenement building. He has brought with him a plastic bag of junk and, literally willing his legs to move, he gradually explores his surroundings. The dilemma facing him is where does he go from here? Danger lurks in the wings and there appears no way out behind the safety curtain stage left. Our erstwhile hero is willing to take direction: from the objects around him; from the scraps of paper whose messages he initially receives as oracular pronouncements, only to subsequently revise the text; and from someone named Will to whom he occasionally directs an existential query. It would seem--especially given the immense second ladder positioned upstage left--that the only way forward for the character is to go further up. Except, we eventually learn, up is actually "in."

And, in this respect, an equally interesting aspect of attending this show is that Young includes, as part of the program, an inserted "Afterword," in which he lets audience members in on the original genesis of the piece's composition, as well as his thoughts on returning to it 20 years later. It's a most compelling--and quite moving--piece of writing: not least for the way it gives us more "texture and colour" to a show Young variously refers to as a "thing" or a "blob."


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