Lois Anderson and Peter Anderson Credit: David Cooper
Lois Anderson and Peter Anderson
Credit: David Cooper

At The Fox Cabaret (2321 Main Street) until December 6, 2015

Posted November 29, 2015

FLEE charmed the pants off me. I confess: even if I have no idea of what’s going on, I can be seduced by costumes, lighting, set design, choreography and performance. Throw in a cello and a trumpet and I’m a goner. FLEE, written by David Hudgins, Jonathon Young and Peter Anderson, has all of these qualities deliciously, overwhelmingly in abundance. I’ve always been a sucker for Leaky Heaven Circus; The Black Rider; Ilsa, Queen of the Nazi Love Camp; and pretty much anything that Edmonton’s Catalyst Theatre produces including Frankenstein and Nevermore. And now FLEE.

Vaudeville x Circus = FLEE. Director Jonathon Young sets it in The Fox Cabaret – dark and boozy with a floor sticky from decades of spilled beer – and you have the perfect setting (on a very small stage) for a play about Archibald Twill, a down-on-his-luck watchmaker (Peter Anderson), who discovers, in his fleabag DTE flop house – the Paris Hotel – a singing flea. Her name is Caprice (Lois Anderson) and she’s the sexiest flea you’ll ever see hopping across your labradoodles’ belly.

When Archibald realizes the moneymaking potential in Caprice he goes to The Old Hand (David Petersen), a former flea circus ringmaster/trainer who proclaims (in a resounding big-top voice), “The flea circus is dead”, killed off by pesticide A167n. But Archibald and Caprice are confident there’s money to be made and the word gets out that you can pay to look through the keyhole into his room and see what the fleas are up to. Apparently, it’s disgusting but the bucks roll in and Madame Renard, the landlady (Kathryn Shaw) is finally off Archibald’s back.

Lois Anderson, Peter Anderson and David Petersen Credit: David Cooper
Lois Anderson, Peter Anderson and David Petersen
Credit: David Cooper

An Electric Company Theatre/Studio 58 presentation, FLEE unites ECT with its Studio 58 roots. ETC went on to become one of the most exciting, innovative theatre companies in the country.

Original music by Peggy Lee (performed live by Lee on electric piano and cello; JP Carter, trumpet, electronics; Ron Samworth, electric guitar; and Dylan van der Schyff, percussion) is a cross between circus music and a parade. If there’s any kid left in you, you’ll love it. (But note: this show is 19+).

Barbara Clayden’s costumes on the eleven Fleaks (Studio 58 students) are wonderfully drab and flea-like: black on black, black on grey and black toques. She dresses Studio 58 director Kathryn Shaw in a black and gold lame gown with a scruffy looking fur wrap, brassy red wig and big lipstick. Choreography by David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen is flea-like: scrabbling fingers and legs make you feel downright itchy.

Itai Erdal lights the stage mostly from above with huge diffusers so faces are cast in deep shadow. On Shizuka Kai’s set it’s a ratskeller, grungy look that’s in perfect keeping with the script.

With Peter Anderson and Lois Anderson – two Leaky Heaven veterans and Canadian favourites – how can you lose? As Caprice, Lois Anderson putting all the little flea-babies to sleep is as sweet a ‘putting the kids to bed scene’ you’ve ever seen. And Peter Anderson is weird and wonderful as always.

Peter Anderson and The Fleaks Credit: David Cooper
Peter Anderson and The Fleaks
Credit: David Cooper

If there’s a message it seems to be this, and I quote: “The trick to changing what you are is to become more of what you are.” That might be profound. Or not.

FLEE is not just a show, it’s an event: the reunion of Studio 58 and the Electric Company Theatre; Kathryn Shaw, with her captivating husky voice, and David Petersen, back on stage; Peter Anderson and Lois Anderson (no relation) together. All that’s missing is Mosey, the short-legged, yellow lab cross that used to waddle through The Cultch during the Leaky Heaven shows. But, considering the fleas get out of control during FLEE and turn the Paris Hotel into the Parasito Hotel, it’s probably best that Mosey, who’s probably long gone, is not wandering around The Fox Cabaret.