Fear of Flight – Factory Theatre

By Michelle Barker

Photo of Andrew Dale by Justin Hall

Fear of Flight is the headlining piece in Factory Theatre’s Performance Spring.  It’s a collective piece created and conceptualized by Jillian Keiley and Robert Chafe.  I won’t lie, I had absolutely no idea what I was in for with this show.  I had no time to prepare for the barrage of, for lack of a better word, unique stylistic decisions that were made by the show’s panel of creators and designers.

The piece is set around an airplane flight and the eclectic group of anxious passengers that occupy the plane.  In a series of monologues, dialogues, movement pieces, and choral vocalization, the stories of these four characters gradually unfold.

Now, how did I feel about it?  I think I can best sum it up by saying that I was under whelmed by the content and overwhelmed by the execution.

Let me set the stage for you a bit.  The overall artistic concept is very drab and beige; white and beige costumes, light brown ‘airplane seats’, blank ‘newspapers’, colourless lights.  The characters spend the majority of the piece in their seats, with the exception of the flight attendants who perform choreographed movement pieces throughout the show.

To contrast this rather blasé artistic concept, the entire show is underscored by an a cappella score vocalized by the entire cast.  This interesting musical score includes the humming of the airplane engine, a plethora of sound effects, and a rather unexpected sequence of beat boxing – all performed by the members of the cast.  These vocalizations underscore the telling of each characters’ story as the flight follows its route to Vancouver.

As we walked out of the theatre, Susanne poured out her initial feelings about the show which included no shortage of ‘I liked it… no, I really think I liked it’.  As we hashed out the details in a nearby coffee shop, we naturally got stuck on the topic of the vocalization.

Susanne felt that each characters’ story could not have stood alone and was greatly aided by the vocalization.  While I wasn’t a huge fan of the vocalization, I would have to say that she’s probably right on this.  Though each characters’ concept was interesting, most of the stories seemed to miss the mark for the most part.  Emotional moments were lost in the comedy and the poignant core of each story often seemed glazed over in the brevity of the piece (it ran at 80 minutes long without an intermission).

There were other things that struck me as odd.  The lighting seemed to change every five seconds, which proved to be more distracting for me than dynamic.  There were also the movement pieces which felt fairly obscure, although my not ‘getting’ it may just be a testament to my lack of depth.  And, of course, the show wasn’t helped at all by the horrific sightlines created by having the stage set up as rows of airplane seats.

I have to say, however, that I was absolutely in love with the performances of Mia Mansfield and Sandy Gow.  Mansfield’s performance as Glynis, a socially-inept, overly-energetic woman who claims to have befriended Jesus (yes, that Jesus) was wonderful to watch.  Gow’s performance as Blandy, a hilariously tough teen with an unexpectedly tragic back story (characters written by Daniel MacIvor and Judith Thompson, respectively) was captivating.  Both women were also the cause of some startlingly loud laughs from Susanne (apologies to the rest of the audience).

In the end, the concept and style of the show is interesting, the cast is remarkably talented, and there are definitely some fun characters with whom the audience can connect, but the style and content were far too disjointed for me to say that I loved it.

If you want to see some fresh musical concepts with quirky character performances and are willing to compromise some character development, this is definitely a show to see.

Fear of Flight directed by Jillian Keiley, Playwrights include Denise Clarke, Marie Clements, Daniel MacIvor, Bryden MacDonald, Guillermo Verdecchia, Berni Stapleton, Judith Thompson, and David Yee.
Fear of Flight plays at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St) until May 24th
– Show times are Wednesday – Sunday at 8 p.m. with 2 p.m. pay-what-you-can matinees on Sundays
– Tickets range from $20 to $37
– The Box Office can be reached at boxoffice@factorytheatre.ca or by calling 416-504-9971
– A limited number of rush tickets are available at 7:50 p.m. on Fridays for $10

Photo of Andrew Dale by Justin Hall