Man & Son: Ladies First (Man & Son) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of performers Felicity Penman and Carolyn Williamson

Despite the best efforts of  its cast, Man & Son’s production of Man & Son: Ladies First at the Toronto Fringe Festival simply didn’t evoke much enthusiasm in its audience. Unfortunately, at the performance I attended, there wasn’t much laughter at this comedy.

Humour is subjective. Some people will surely love this show, which is great. Personally, I enjoyed the creative use of the shower curtain as a prop, and I thought that  Felicity Penman and Carolyn Williamson’s use of mimed object work was a nice touch, helping to  fill out their environment. I also thought that the spacesuits in their astronaut scene were well done.

In my experience as a playwright and improviser, when a comedy isn’t funny, the script or the structure of the scene are usually responsible.

The show had a sketch format that was occasionally interspersed with songs, including a timely one about harrassment in the subway. The sketches featured characters in a variety of relationships — roommates, friends at the mall, a woman and a firefighter in a burning building.

I felt that the sketch format worked against the performers. The scenes were not sustained enough to make me invest in the characters, but the jokes were also not frequent enough to keep me entertained. Sharper writing would have benefitted the play throughout. I was also not enthusiastic about the use of accents, especially the accent of the stoic Russian astronaut.

My main problem was that I didn’t feel the emotional truth in most scenes. Complex characters are not a requirement for comedy, but if the relationships between characters don’t feel genuine, the audience can tell.

The roommate scene is a good example: those characters went from best friends having a love-fest, to angrily dividing their possessions, to completely abandoning their conflict and crying with each other. I’m not saying that this progression of emotions can’t or doesn’t happen. Here, though, the changes happened too quickly and dramatically for me to believe in them.

In the proposal scene, too, I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief. It’s okay to have a character who doesn’t realize what their partner is getting at. Plenty of great comedy has been built on this premise, and everyone understands how confusing relationships can be. I found that both of the characters in  Man & Son: Ladies First, however, were so over-the-top clueless that the audience was ahead of them the whole way.

Comedy relies greatly on surprise; it’s hard to get a laugh when people think they know what’s going to happen. It’s even harder when they turn out to be right.


  • Man & Son: Ladies First plays at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse. (79 St. George St)
  • 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.
  • This venue is wheelchair-accessible.


  • Wednesday June 29th, 08:15 pm
  • Saturday July 2nd, 03:30 pm
  • Monday July 4th, 01:00 pm
  • Wednesday July 6th, 09:15 pm
  • Thursday July 7th, 02:30 pm
  • Saturday July 9th, 05:45 pm
  • Sunday July 10th, 07:00 pm

Photo of Felicity Penman and Carolyn Williamson by Paul Aihoshi