Weird and wonderful, a human vaudeville under the skin: Epidermis Circus, a Fringe review

Ingrid Hansen in Epidermis Circus, SNAFU. Photo by Jam Hamidi.

Epidermis Circus (Stage 18, The Luther Centre)

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

There’s a nutty and ingenious self-reliance built into this “spicy puppet cabaret” from Victoria’s SNAFU Society of Unexpected Spectacles (Little Orange Man, The Merkin Sisters). Let’s just say that the relationship between puppet and puppeteer has never been closer.  

In the course of it, both live and magnified onscreen, in cunningly angled cameras and mirror images, we see Ingrid Hansen, presiding from a table of simple found objects, create characters from her own hands, fingers, tongue, and (as in the case of razzmatazz stand-up comic Lenny the Boob) other body parts. And she sets them in motion in a saucy and jostling vaudeville of ‘stars’ who are related under the skin, very literally. 

Florence McFingernails, an earthy stage-struck ancient with an insatiable appetite for the limelight and a taste for old-school bad jokes, is the M.C. who can barely bring herself to introduce the talent. “Up next … not me!”

The precise physicality attached to Hansen’s imagination (the show is co-created with director Britt Small) is mesmerizing. We get the fun of sudden recognition as characters emerge into miniature worlds from a palm and its fleshy attachments. 

Epidermis Circus, SNAFU. Photo by Ingrid Hansen,

We meet a pair of mismatched dogs doing doggie things in a dog park. We watch a sinister, worldly baby pay unsettling homage to vintage vaudeville by taking a bubble bath on stage. Florence, incidentally, a veritable repository of grievances, is unimpressed. “So, the baby took a bath. Who am I to judge what is art?” 

The tone is sassy; Epidermis Circus is full of Fringe jokes for your enjoyment (lordie, it’s good to be back and hear the hallowed name TJ Dawe from the stage!). The sense of humour runs to dark and macabre. There’s a whole Romeo and Juliet ballet with vampiric top notes, and a post-apocalyptic vision that emerges from the puppeteer’s mouth. It’s 2022 and we know that world; Epidermis Circus steps up and finds a way to be playful about it. There’s a kooky, energizing joy about rediscovering the human potential right there, just under the skin, and populating worlds with it.    

The human body, says Florence, is “a big ol’ bag of meat.’ Epidermis Circus gives it the finger; it’s a post-pandemic celebration of our own weird possibilities. 

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