Undercurrents – Raising the Bar

http://www.undercurrentsfestival.ca 12-21 February 2015

Attendance at Undercurrents opening night was testament to Ottawa’s writing and performing talents where a boisterous and enthusiastic crowd filled the house for a trio of outstanding acts. As the festival grows year on year now extending over two weekends with more than 30 performances and an international act to boot the bar (sic)is set  high in both theatrical standards and as a shining example of how to run a event.

Pat Gauthier in the Studio

Pat Gauthier in the Studio

Undercurrents delivers quality theatre in a convivial roughly-polished atmosphere proving it’s the sum of the parts that create a success. Planning to stay for only the first play it was the attention brought to the overall experience that drew me in to buy tickets and contribute to the Pay-What-You-Can (PWYC) act in the Studio (ahem bar) sandwiched between the two pay shows.

Remarks throughout the night from Festival Director Patrick Gauthier provided a welcoming, personal note to the proceedings. Gauthier’s vision and genuine enthusiasm alongside his personable approach is energising theatre in this city.

First up was Thunk!Theatre who set sail in Far & Near & Here on a serendipitous journey of self discovery with a first date thrown in for good measure. Plastic bottles haphazardly litter the set and the opening is rather choppy until Ned (Geoff McBride) and Ted (Karen Balcome) row in to each other’s lives via a notebook left in a cafe and a series of long-distance postcards. Meeting at a GPS point, Here, halfway between their respective homes of Near and Far both are at sea in more ways than one. The discarded bottles and office chairs are not only rowboats nor simply a metaphor for plastic choked oceans but as these two strangers are forced to face personal dissatisfaction head on the play moves from purposefully whimsy to become a pensive thought-provoking piece.

Air by Tottering Biped Theatre was a one-man physical performance with Trevor Copp nothing short of astonishing as he wordlessly encapsulates life after death, a stag hunt, and a man who reaches for and climbs to the stars. These brief performances set to well chosen soundtracks carried the audience easily with physical performances delivering beauty, humour and humanity.  Expecting little at the outset this act proved to be the gem of opening night.

Love + Hate by The Peptides delivers song-filled vignettes tackling the big issues of the day from corporate corruption through the polarizing effects of love and hate. The vocals of this 9-piece are fantastic, clearly a crowd pleaser, as evidenced by the packed house but the theatricality of the performances left me cold; the vocals far outstripping the Thespian routine. A straight-up concert strikes me as a more tempting proposition though I seemed to be in the minority on the night.

A glimpse of the generous spread

A glimpse of the generous spread

The curation of this event is fantastic. Across-the-road local class act resto-bar The Albion Rooms was enlisted to cater opening night and Chef Stephen La Salle outdid himself with a fantastically generous and creative spread. Most dates includes a PWYC option allowing the uninitiated to dip a toe in fringe with satisfying acts in the bar (ahem Studio). On Wednesday Feb 18th they’ve organised a free beer tasting with Dominion City sandwiched between SPIN at 19:00 and Marathon at 21:00 taking theatre accessibility to a whole new level. Ottawa’s theatres can frequently be staid seemingly forgetting that pretension is no marker of success or enjoyment.   Not so at Undercurrents where the delivery of the experience is equal to the quality of the selected pieces. Gauthier and co deliver an experience where the NAC season-ticket holder will feel as comfortable as a Sens fan. Neither precious nor pretentious Undercurrents gets it right delivering professional quality theatre alongside a proper night out.

ArtsCourt, 2 Daly Ave, Ottawa, ON
http://www.undercurrentsfestival.ca

12-21 February 2015

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