“Peculiar and unusual beauty”: a unique “multi-threat talent” strikes again in Balls of Yarns. A guest 12thnight Fringe review by Alan Kellogg

Paul Strickland in Balls of Yarns. Photo by Dan R. Winters

Balls of Yarns (Stage 2, Backstage Theatre)

Rummaging through my Fringe-necessary man-purse, I happened upon a small piece of blue yarn. I was about to huck it in my ever-bulging waste paper basket, when I stopped. It’s now safely draped over my favourite desk thing, a Talavera pencil case I bought in México.

I may never move it.

Because, you see, it will forever remind me of this wondrous solo performance piece by Paul Strickland. The piece of yarn was handed out to each audience member in a packed theatre before the show as “the press kit.” If that strikes you as odd and intriguing, even endearing, press on. As he said in a cheery aside to a patron early into the story, “it’s going to get a lot weirder.”

True, and this is a good thing.  The central story — among many, over an hour that flew by – involves visiting a strange town. This is a place where hotel guests can engage in spirited two-way dialogue (and duet) with a creaky door, peruse the fun house mirrors resting against trees in the park, sample the delights and denizens like 3-Tooth Tony at Patsy’s Perspective diner, and most importantly, sort out the differences between the library and “truth-braries.” Birds are in the mix, too. There are these balls of yarn on the shelves, you see, and when connected to a tin can listening device spin amazing (!) — believe it — stories.

And while there are plenty of laughs here, there is also a sinister presence you can’t quite can’t get your metaphorical knitting needle on, which deepens the broth.

Strickland, an über-sympathetic figure onstage, lives in Covington, Kentucky, a suburb of Cincinnati at the confluence of the Ohio and (yes) Licking rivers. He’s a multi-threat talent who has become a multi-kudo’ed Fringe tour favourite of late. The storytelling — call it what you will, but it’s artful, funny and moving — is enlivened by skilled guitar fills and vocals. We’re even treated to a self-effacing dream ballet sequence.

There’s no one out there (a small joke for those who have seen the show) like Strickland. The only comparison I could summon was (very) early Biff Rose in live performance, before he ran off the rails.

The word is out. Balls of Yarns is a hit and deserves to be. If you are prepared to appreciate “peculiar and unusual beauty” — and why not? — snap up your tickets now.

Alan Kellogg


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