Fringe Festival Reviews # 8 : Influenced and The Bargaining Stage

Posters Montreal Fringe Festival Posters. Photo Rachel Levine


If there’s one thing I love more than social discomfort, the inevitable advance of our technocratic overlords, and clowns, it’s thiccness of the dangerous kind. If that sounds like your kind of Friday night, Influenced will rock your world.

True to her bouffon specialty, performer Sam Chaulk puts on a riveting one-woman show as Prima, a satirical and ever-changing spirit that incarnates all the awful Internet personalities you’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting. She’s aided by Algo, her robotic assistant, who’s (ironically) often the more human-ish of the two. Prima moves seamlessly between characters, with a thunderous singing voice and a smile that screams “incredibly mentally well.” Her humour is relentless. She tears you from the comfort of your social media bubble like a kid being dragged from a pillow fort. You aren’t here to watch her through a glass wall. By stepping into this theatre, you accept that you’re part of this global comedy. This is Prima’s show, and she’s here to prove to you that you aren’t protected by that screen — not now, and not ever.

But why are you backing away? Is it the self-introspection? The invasiveness of it all? Don’t tell me you’re scared of a little existential discomfort? Surely that isn’t it. After all, you already spend every minute of every hour of every day selling yourself out to our lord and saviour Zark Muckleberg. It probably gets stressful after a while! So when this show is not only informative but includes a self-care session, fortune telling, and fun (anxiety-inducing) group activities to get the blood pumping, how could you not go? Just make sure to bring your phones! Prima will be sure to demonstrate exactly how conducive they are for our mental health.

The Bargaining Stage:

Harsh breathing. Twisting flesh. A dizzying array of colour and darkness, punctuated by movement so fierce it seems to rock the stage. Welcome to The Bargaining Stage. Behold as a talented cast of dancers from the contemporary group Ghosts and Tonic perform as if their lives depend on it. They twist and contort to the deep, rippling basslines of a distorted audio track, and the vivid flare of spotlights overhead only serves to make the darkness darker. Here, violence and beauty intertwine in a show that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The play is suffused with an excruciating, physical tension that at times borders on the erotic as the dancers push their bodies to the limit. Their joints bend and their backs arch, caught in the throes of either ecstasy or death. They grasp for invisible throats; they scrabble at the brink of humanity. At some point the movements are so exaggerated it becomes difficult to tell which way the dancer is facing. Hair hangs over their faces, swaying shadows in the glaring light, and their already-unpredictable movements become downright horrifying.

Like meat puppets on cruel strings, the dancers sway and jerk, and like puppets, they occasionally seem to malfunction. You’re forced to sit through the same motion followed through again and again, harsh like a sledgehammer being swung. It never becomes boring. Oh, no. As the strikes build on themselves and their breath becomes audible, jagged, worsening with every blow, it breeds a particular kind of terror that makes you want to beg them to stop.

Everything about The Bargaining Stage is summed up in its dancers – humanity pushed to the very brink of breaking.  It’s hard to blink or even breathe under the weight of it. You want to drink in the mesmerizing performance, but base instinct tells you to close your eyes and turn away. A must-see if you want all the thrill of horror with none of the mess. Surrealist horror has never been so exquisitely choreographed.

The Montreal Fringe Festival takes place in June. Tickets for all shows available HERE.

Check out our list of Fringe Festival Picks and reviews of Alright, Solving the Problem of LivingRob Teszka Magic Dropout, Keep Me (at the) Close, Leila Roils the SeasTango in the DarkHeartBeastLungsPersonal/Universal, CaughtWho, Me?,  Field Zoology 101I Know You Are But What Am IExit 20:20, CivilizedLush WanderingsA Mystic’s Journey, and Tales of the Rise of the Fallen.