If conflict be an essential element in good storytelling, then here be some fine stories indeed. Much Ado About Feckin’ Pirates, the mounting of the improv piece by Richard Gélinas and Margo MacDonald and directed by Al Connors, is as much a workshop in storytelling as it is a funny, absurd hour of improv theatre.
The basic structure of the show is fairly straightforward: two bickering pirates have been banished by their captain to the crow’s nest and they have to stay there until they can learn to get along. The rest is improvised around a very few number of set “posts” throughout.
It’s quite an interactive experience. On arrival you will be greeted by some friendly pirates who will first invite you to get your pirate name (there’s a formula; I’m Bowman McGee, no doubt the Tim Jones of pirate names) and then give you the opportunity to vote on pirate-related topics. The six topics with the most votes will be revealed to the pirates throughout the course of the show and it is from these that they will create their interactions, making it a different show every time you see it.
The topics are mostly pirate related: the Ship, the Captain, the First Mate are all possible topics as well as Hygiene, Drinking, Politics and Religion among others. Audience members are given the opportunity to suggest a new category as well which will be worked in if it receives enough votes. I was assured that pirates are a democratic lot and I think for the most part, that’s probably true, and yet they’re also the original anarchists aren’t they? Maybe that’s why we love pirates so much. They’ve hit on the ideal political system.
Margo MacDonald is Her, maybe not book smart but spunky and brave, the kind of pirate you’d want on your side in a fight, while Richard Gélinas is Him, the more introspective and thoughtful pirate, a pirate of depth beneath still waters, though in my estimation, almost certainly a parrot murderer. Both are appropriately bloodthirsty yet at times touchingly naïve; not the kind of pirates that ever really existed of course; much better. You feel that if they could work out their differences, there would not be much they couldn’t accomplish together under better circumstances.
The costumes are good and swashbuckling and the set is simple but striking. A crow’s nest high above the sails is the focus for the better part of the show. The sails also serve as the screen for some simple but very effective animations throughout the production. The animations seem to serve as markers for some of the less improvised parts of the performance, and also add additional depth and movement to what is largely a very still piece of theatre, adding an almost cinematic quality to the production at times; I actually felt a little seasick before the lights came up and was relieved to discover the ship was becalmed.
There is always risk in Improv; the show dragged here and there and the dialogue didn’t always succeed, but watching this collaborative process unfold before me was consistently fascinating and the frequent pay-offs were pretty great. My companion (Creeper McStinky) and I and the entire audience laughed hard and often. Do you believe them as pirates? Yes. Do you want to take them home with you to accompany you at all times? I did. Is there a better way to spend an hour than watching two pirates argue about all that is good, bad, ugly and funny about the golden age of piracy? I cannot think of one.
I hope you won’t make me walk the plank if I say Much Ado About Feckin’ Pirates is a boatload of fun.
Much Ado About Feckin Pirates is presented by undercurrents theatre festival, taking place at Arts Court Studio (2 Daly Ave) until February 21, 2015. This performance is $15 or buy an evening pass for $25. One performance remains: Thursday, February 19th at 7:00pm. Click here for a detailed schedule.