Three years ago, in March 2011 to be exact, I reviewed SPIN. It's back now for a short run at that bastion of LGBT theatre, Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times. The show is much spruced up and slicker. Braved the snow to see it last night with my partner.
Says Buddies “This remount features some significant and exciting changes from the original production: several news songs that have created a whole different ending to Evalyn’s story, and brand new musical arrangements for string trio have been created to accompany the show, adding new depth, drama, humour and ear candy to this innovative song cycle.”
The addition of the string trio is a huge success, the changes to the narrative thread less so - in fact some fizz has been lost - and so some of what is described below you won't see in this musically stronger version
Stillll, I glowed about the show in my 2011 review and I don’t think I can do better then re-publish it, because the salient points remain, so here it is.
It was hard to know what to expect. A show with lesbian overtones about the history of the bicycle and its impact on society sounds distinctly odd fare. Fringe theatre at its fringiest, perhaps, not entirely accessible to this gay guy who hasn’t ridden a bike in years? In truth, it’s nothing of the sort. SPIN is engaging, accessible, quirky fun which holds your interest for all of its ninety minutes.
Buddies stage is a steampunk concoction of props, and musical instruments, some conventional, some not. Chief amongst the latter and occupying a prominent place on stage-left is a bicycle (a 1972 Galaxy CCM model for those in the know), suspended on a mechanic’s stand. It’s both a visual reminder of the show’s theme and a key participant; more on that latter.
Actor singer and songwriter Evalyn Parry, SPIN’s creator, holds centre stage for the shows entire length. She is narrator and singer/guitar player, acting out some parts, singing others. She's a gifted raconteur. What Parry actually does here though is difficult to categorize. The Toronto Star calls it “part theatre, part musical gig, part spoken word poetry and part documentary. Whatever it is, it is brilliant.” We agree. What that doesn’t say is that Parry is possessed of remarkable charisma, something like a less lascivious Carole Pope in fact. You’ll like her.
Xtra, by the way, gives the show front page coverage in its March 10 issue, calling it a "lesbian bike musical."
Parry says “riding your bike you are a link in a chain.” That chain is documented in humorous detail. Highlights include the mostly true tale of Annie Londonderry, the first woman to ride a bike around the world (1895) and of Igor Kenk, the Toronto bicycle thief of a few years back found in possession of a staggering 2,800 stolen bikes, apparently not including Parry’s missing one. This remarkable case ("he stole my history", she says) colours the tale of a disastrous relationship Parry was involved in at the time with a female non-bike lover. The show finally takes a turn for the political, literally ending up at Buddies' front door in Rob Ford’s not so bike-friendly Toronto of 2011.
Musically the show is quite a trip too. Let’s talk about that bicycle mounted on stage left. It’s outfitted with electronic gizmos that allow it to be played like an instrument. Gifted percussionist Brad Hart gets an amazing array of sounds out of this musical contraption, hitting it with sticks, brushes, his bare hands - even a violin bow. It becomes, in fact, a virtual co-star of the show, so much so that it sometimes over-shadows what’s happening centre stage. Meanwhile, over on stage right, Anna Friz adds electronic weirdness and acoustic touches to create an extremely rich soundscape. Also adding to the production are quite excellentl, inventive projections, courtesy of Beth Kates.
So - If it sounds like I had fun at Buddies last night I did. You will too. In fact this remarkable, good natured little show deserves a wide audience – way beyond Toronto’s legion of bike fans and/or lesbians starved of cultural references on the stage. Go see SPIN. Good time guaranteed.
SPIN runs November 19-23- at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto. Box Office 416-975-8555. Shows Wed-Sun, 8pm. www.buddiesinbadtimes.com
by EVALYN PARRY
directed by RUTH MADOC-JONES
featuring EVALYN PARRY + BRAD HART
with DON KERR, KATHLEEN KAJIOKA + ANNE LINDSAY
arrangements for string trio by MICHAEL HOLT
production design BETH KATES