Brighton Fringe 2009
Canarsie Suite- At the Edge of Vaudeville, explores the lot of the Le Roy sisters, and follows the journey of their lives, through ‘small time vaudeville, carnival side shows and the dancehalls of the Alaskan gold mining camps’. This is a fast paced, funny and extremely well executed piece of physical theatre, which teeters beautifully between tragedy and comedy, throughout.
This is the story of the Le Roy sisters and their life long theatrical career, told in the style and genre of the time. It is 1910, the end of the vaudeville era and Glady’s is holding on to tradition for dear life, whilst Birdie longs for change and searches for truth amongst the ‘mockery’. Their tale is told through ‘a patchwork of dance song, knife throwing and clown theatre’.
From the first strains of the opening song and dance routine, we are invited into a world that is tawdry, tacky and tired. The Le Roy sisters explain that they will share their lives with us through their art as Vaudeville performers. They re-enact the sideshow of their mother and her performing Gorilla, with amusing asides that give us insight into their feelings about their formative years. From here on we are bombarded with song, dance, melodrama, magic and knife throwing and are introduced to an array of amusing and diverse characters. But as much as the Le Roy sisters want to share ‘something beautiful’ with us, the cracks are visible from the outset, and the stress and strains of an itinerant life begin to show, ending in tragedy.
The Le Roy Twins may be second rate Vaudeville performers, but Aimee German (Glady’s) and Jenny Sargent (Birdie), are highly skilled actresses and clowns. They play off each other perfectly, have great timing and excellent physical comedy skills. I particularly liked the increasing exhaustion and desperation, which is apparent in the characters as their story unfolds.
The play is well written with some beautifully crafted (and wonderfully delivered) lines and some lovely improvisation, which give the piece spontaneity.
There are some incredibly funny and joyous moments, particularly at the beginning of the show, but it is cleverly played, so we are never far away from a sense of pathos and of a lifestyle coming to an end.
Themes running through the play are that of displacement, and the search for truth in a world of mockery. I loved the dark side of this tale and could have stomached something even darker. I think the show, from its hilarious and high energy start could afford to have more of an intense build and harrowing conclusion, and I think these actresses would be perfectly capable of carrying that off.
The Hive @the Brunswick tent is the perfect setting for this show, with its carnival feel and twinkly lights. From what I’ve seen and heard, this venue is producing some really entertaining and high quality productions. The Canarsie Suite is a great example of this and I highly recommend catching it before the end of the run.