Review by Jennifer Cavanagh
60 min / Comedy, Musical / PG
A fixation on the mutual-obsession between Wellington & Napoleon, a musical production in tatters and a scattered nervous protagonist set the stage for Mark Shyzer’s return to the Fringe with his one-man show Great Battles in History.
The piece opens with stuttering, shuffling protagonist Jeff Peirce performing the title number to his musical with only his ukulele as accompaniment. He begs us to envision a stage crowded with “singing-shouting” actors delivering this as yet unfinished number in stirring fashion as he weakly sings out pun-ny lines playing on the leaders of war projected on his small fold-away screen from the carousel of slides he works via a foot-pedal.
Jeff valiantly paints a picture of what should-have-been, a grand musical, a co-collaboration with his creative boyfriend, undisciplined actors, condescending PR, the unexpected and unprofessional departure of contributors. His tale is pathetically funny yet as he revisits the content, the stories of Genghis Kahn, of Napoleon and Wellington, the focus remains oddly on broken relationships and abandonment as it slowly becomes clear that Jeff’s own world, as much as this production, may have faced its own Waterloo.
Shyzer is utterly convincing in this fumbling portrayal of a man desperate to hold on to the ashes of his production and of what once was. Using inadequate props he cobbles together tales of Kahn using a lazy-susan, shadow-puppets cameo dialogue between Wellington & Napoleon and conveys the horrors of war with no more than a mason jar and food-colouring. Shyzer’s use of minimal props is stunningly effective; using simplistic tools to take us from history to the present and from comfort to horror.
It is a surreal arcing performance becoming increasingly dream-like with the ingenious use of light and utter darkness to transport and focus the audience. I can’t recall the last time I felt such palpable dread whilst at a musical-comedy! Shyzer transitions deftly between the musical’s characters and Jeff’s world – culminating in a merger that is completely natural and fully satisfying. Great Battles is a strange and powerful lingering show and Shyzer’s potently chameleon performance is one not to be missed.
Great Battles in History is playing at Venue 2 – Arts Court Library on Saturday, June 21 at 6:30 pm; Monday, June 23 at 7:30 pm; Wednesday, June 25 at 9:00 pm; Thursday, June 26 at 6:00pm; and Saturday, June 28 at 8:00 pm.