fringe: wilde life

front row theatre's wilde lifeFor me, this year's Fringe has been very much about the use of language... and that being the case, 3BProduction's production Wilde Life was truly a fitting end to my Fringe experience.

Using the work of Oscar Wilde as the basis for an ornithology lecture, and having the actors play the roles as birds in human form is one of the more unique approaches to a performance that I've seen this year.

But it totally works...

A large amount of Wilde's work concerned love, marriage, the differences between men and women and translates easily to the idea that you're watching creatures in their natural habitat going through elaborate mating rituals.

The whole thing is pulled together by the slightly Riff-Raffian Jack Daw, played with much delight and scenery chewing (in a good way) by Gary Kliger. He sets up the scenarios, drawing the analogies between Victorian England and the natural history lecture.

After a brief introduction he brings on the other plays... Ed Bone as an often somewhat creepy Mature Cock... Julie Bray as the very plump Ageing Hen... Ruth Lyons as the Breeding Hen... Laura Meldon in a "breeches role" (a term I hadn't come across before tonight) as the Juvenile Male (or Young Cock as I kept think of her)... and Rosanna Brennan as the pretty little Juvenile Female.

I really wanted to be disappointed by the fact that they didn't have a handsome young man in the role of Juvenile Male, but that only lasted a minute or so once Meldon stepped on stage. While the other actors would often switch between bird-like motions and more human gestures, the Young Cock was every inch a bird the whole time... Meldon breathed such life into him with little twitches, head tilts, birdlike poses and brilliant darting eyes.

She was so good that my eyes were constantly drawn back to her even when all she was doing was standing on the opposite side of the stage from where I was supposed to be looking.

Lyons also imbued her character with some great bird-like qualities, especially during the "Importance of Being Earnest dominance battle" with Brennan. And once Bray revved up with her clucking old hen, she was hilarious.

But there really wasn't a bad performance in it. Bone was a little weak at times later in the play as the Mature Cock, he did well with the early "father" role though.

The costumes are also brilliant... Jack in his glossy black suit with shiny feathers... the three hens in their slightly drab, tightly corseted dresses accented with feathers and little bits of shiny teal bling... and the two cocks in their highly colourful, peacock inspired frockcoats and cravats.

And the on-stage transformation of the juvenile hen from a very believable chick to a corseted hen was brilliantly done.

Writer/director Anne Grant and writer Julie Bray pick all the classic bon mots from Wilde's repertoire and group them into scenes as well as taking particular portions from Wilde's plays (the aforementioned Earnest as well as An Ideal Husband).

It reminded me a little of Shakespeare's Queens in that regard... using text away from it's original work to illustrate a point.

I didn't even mind the couple of songs thrown into the mix, and usually that's the kind of thing that would really bug me.

It just go to show that great writing is timeless and it doesn't really matter how you present it. Fortunately, in this case, the presentation more than lived up to Mr Wilde's prose.

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