Pressgang Storytelling (Pressgang Theatre) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Jillian Welsh standing at a microphone with her arms raised and her hands imitating claws.

Storytelling, the ability to connect with another person by conveying a narrative based on your personal, lived experience, is the quintessential element that makes live theatre magical.  Pressgang Theatre is presenting a series of twelve storytelling shows as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival

A different line-up of five storytellers takes the stage every night of the festival at the bicycle-themed Handlebar located in one of Toronto’s most storied neighbourhoods, Kensington Market. The bar has an eclectic decor, a solid selection of Ontario craft beers and a reliable, reasonably-priced cocktail menu. It’s a great venue in which to spend a summer evening listening to stories.

The set-up looks and feels like a stand up comedy club. There’s a small stage with a single mic on a stand at the back of the bar. The shows are curated by writer and company founder, Graham Isador, who also hosts the proceedings and offers stories of his own. With his affable personality and understated style he invites the audience in then allows his guests to take the spotlight.

On any given night, each invited storyteller elaborates a true story from their real life touching on a theme. On opening night the theme was “fights” and the stories ran the gamut from hilarious to heartbreaking.

And yes, many of the featured storytellers are professional performers. Put them in front of a mic under a spotlight and the tendency for the big stage persona who wants to fill the room with its presence and make the audience laugh tends to come out.

However, in many instances, throughout the course of the stories, a shift occurs. The pretence is dropped and suddenly the storyteller is sharing something deeply personal. That’s when the magic really happens. It’s quite the experience to be belly-laughing one minute then feeling the ball in your throat and tears welling up in your eyes the next.

On opening night I experienced this phenomenon during the stories told by Spacing Radio’s Glyn Bowerman, actor Jillian Welsh and comedian Faisal Butt. I found it so incredibly brave to allow yourself to open up and be to so vulnerable. As an audience member it feels incredibly intimate, as if a close friend has trusted to share a deep secret with you.

While the stories each night will differ, Isador has curated all the shows so each performance should contain a good mix.

Some of the other artists and personalities who will be featured in the shows include Toronto Fringe favourites Rachel Blair, Marilla Wex, Rhiannon Archer, and Tom Davis; Robin Black of MuchMusic and UFC fame, Erica Peck who starred in Mirvish’s production of We will Rock You as well as comedians Faisal Butt, Helder Brum, and Jess Bealieu.

Pressgang Storytelling is a perfect way to get warmed up for a night of Fringing. If you’re in the neighbourhood I definitely recommend stopping by the bar, grabbing a drink and settling in for an evening of laughter and maybe even a few tears.


  • Pressgang Storytelling plays at Handlebar. (159 Augusta Ave.)
  • Tickets are $12 at the door and in advance. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
  • Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
  • Content Warnings: Mature Language, Sexual Content.


  • Wednesday June 29th, 07:00 pm
  • Thursday June 30th, 07:00 pm
  • Friday July 1st, 07:00 pm
  • Saturday July 2nd, 07:00 pm
  • Sunday July 3rd, 07:00 pm
  • Monday July 4th, 07:00 pm
  • Tuesday July 5th, 07:00 pm
  • Wednesday July 6th, 07:00 pm
  • Thursday July 7th, 07:00 pm
  • Friday July 8th, 07:00 pm
  • Saturday July 9th, 07:00 pm
  • Sunday July 10th, 07:00 pm

Photo of Jillian Welsh Photo by Maddie Fordham