Canada Hub 2018 programme, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Image result for canada hub, summerhall

Canada has been taking over over a church behind Summerhall for the last several years with a varied programme showcasing performance from across the country. This year has a distinctly socio-political bent, with controversial Daughter heading the bill.

A middle-aged husband, father and all-around good guy talks directly to the audience about the challenges of being a dad to a little girl, being faithful and giving up a life of partying. Except he didn’t really give it up. He hasn’t left behind violent tendencies or commodifying women, either. The casual, matter-of-factness with which he treats his actions indicates he doesn’t find them a problem. He actually justifies his behaviour with tiredness, or stress, or boredom or any of a host of other excuses. It’s vile, and also fascinating – in a detached, anthropological sense that comes with observing something so horrendous that it barely seems real.

But of course it’s real, and we have all come across men who see affairs and violence as acceptable. This personified misogynist in the guise of a decent bloke triggers a disgusted silence that lingers well beyond the normal close of a show. The applause is reluctant and the audience is palpably repulsed by this character.

But what’s the point of staging this? If there’s one thing the #MeToo movement has done is foster awareness of toxic masculinity, even in the supposed nice guys. These bastions of privilege who thinks the world owes them everything for nothing are more common than previously thought due to systemic, patriarchal structures. So there’s nothing that’s really surprising about him. It would be much more interesting to hear this story from the perspectives of his wife and daughter.

Chase Scenes, a collage of 60 quick recreations of chase scenes, is what it says on the tin and isn’t particularly surprising either. Three women use iPhone camera live feeds, a vast collection of props and a selection of costumes to present an array of escapes, robberies, attacks and settings. Most of the time the person shown running is fearful; it’s rare that they are running because they’re in control of the situation. It’s difficult to not frame these in contexts where women are threatened by men, as the pursuer is never shown. The format stales quickly, even with moments that are played for laughs, as the brevity of each scene and the relentless, unvarying pace doesn’t give much room for differentiation.

Famous Puppet Death Scenes follows a similarly repetitive format, but the content within each scene has much more variation that Chase Scenes. An elderly puppet hosts the variety night within an Art Deco, puppet theatre set. He has curated the scenes from existing, full-length puppet shows from the around the world in a large range of styles, from contemporary German kid’s puppetry to ancient stories from East Asia to French existential insects. Though all very funny, there’s also a profundity to the work – we are asked to contemplate our mortality and the power of excellent puppet shows. It’s a wonderful, surprising mix of humour and pathos.

Huff and First Snow are at the more serious end of the spectrum and tell more conventionally structured narratives. They both take a scrupulous look at serious issues in Canada – drug abuse and suicide in First Nations reservations, and the family-dividing potential of independence referendums. Both easily translate to global audiences, and both have devastating effects.

The one-man Huff tells of three brothers growing up on the resi with an abusive, alcoholic father a mother that committed suicide and a grandmother who loves them fiercely but has little power to stop them from shoplifting or huffing siphoned petrol. A single performer plays this entire family, focusing on the young boys with plenty of spirit but little guidance. Their childhood antics are as funny as they are devastating, even when reality and the spirit world cross. The show goes on a touch too long past what feels like its natural end, but this does little to lessen its impact.

With an ensemble cast of French, Canadian and Scottish actors, First Snow transports us to a sprawling estate in rural Canada. Isabelle has summoned her family and loved ones for a reason she takes her time to reveal. As they pass the time before dinner, they debate and opine and reflect on nationhood, independence, cultural identity and sharing space with those whose politics oppose theirs. Meta-theatre adds richness to the already delicious stew of traditions and cultural experiences. The structure is cinematic but loosely linear, though in this heavy atmosphere and remote location it often feels like time has stopped.

There’s a Sisyphean quality to both of these shows, though they both have devastating, confrontational climaxes and plenty of content that provokes reflection. They are necessary elements in a well-rounded programme of shock, comedy, misogyny, oppression and death that show the complex intricacies of a diverse nation.

Canada Hub productions run through 26 August.

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