I took the scenic drive to Victoria, that seaside time capsule, where art and culture and eccentricity are warmly embraced.
A unique pair of travellers has shored up their wagon at the Victoria Playhouse to put on a vaudeville pastiche of dance, song and punchlines.
Their treasures have the oddest sparkle. Top Hats & Tales is a treat bag of assorted goodies, sketches and dances and music, all brought to us by the quirky personalities of Andrea Conway and Wayne Doba, channelling their stage counterparts Dik and Mitzi.
The ribbon that ties together this hodgepodge of throwback bits is the relationship of the performers, their zaniness magnifying the well-trod ups and downs of love. They invite us to their courtship, and give a glimpse of their future, each time referencing the opening number, with hiked up britches and some thumps of a cane.
The chemistry of the pair off-stage brims through the costumed personas. Schmaltz is tempered by the unusual sense of humour and creativity that these two share. Throughout, although gags are often based on simple concepts, what is most striking is the keen awareness of movement. A moment of despondence or a gleeful swagger becomes a much bigger event, both precise and exaggerated.
The practiced and formal stage etiquette of Dik and Mitzi is constantly being assaulted by clumsy pauses and un-ironed kinks. Doused in traditional clowning, the goofs and mess-ups are, of course, as practised and choreographed as the snappy steps. The most tense and exhilarating display of this misdirection involves a chandelier mishap.
The two could surely fill a larger stage with antics, but make their big presence at home in the intimate venue.
Doba has a personable talk-singing approach. His nifty steps are stealthier than his eye glint or his intentionally groaner jokes might suggest. Conway is coiled with energy and unleashes it with eye-widening precision.
The coy play between low brow silliness and artful performance shows best in moments like the mind-bending dance number where legs and arms were indistinguishable under costume. With the physical puzzle untangled, a gasping “ooohhh” of revelation spilled from our knotted audience brains.
Though they site a number of people in the program who’ve helped create this work, it’s clearly a labour of love for the couple, a constantly evolving show they’ve toured across the map. For our charming little theatre scene that usually tends toward folksy storytelling, the over the top characters, props and masks of Top Hats & Tales, and its rare veneer of formality, make for a notably atypical experience.
Lennie MacPherson, a Charlottetown-based writer, actor and musician, writes theatre reviews for The Guardian during the summer months. He welcomes feedback at email@example.com.