DESKTOP
TABLET (max. 1024px)
MOBILE (max. 640px)
Return to Top
Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Talk Is Free Theatre’s 'Manimals' Is A Total Embrace Of Performer And Viewer

By Paula Citron on March 7, 2021

Talk Is Free Theatre Manimals
Michelle Hudson in Talk Is Free Theatre’s Manimals. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Talk Is Free Theatre, Manimals. Written and performed by Michelle Hudson, directed by Flo O’Mahony.  Live streamed Mar. 5 to 7; Mar. 12 to 14. Tickets available at tift.ca.

Michelle Hudson is an actor, producer, theatre maker, multimedia artist and game designer which certainly gives her the qualifications to come up with an innovative, immersive online digital production, and, for the most part, her one-woman virtual show Manimals delivers the goods. Expat Hudson (who is a graduate of the Arts & Sciences program at McMaster University), is based in London, England, and it was the pandemic lockdown in the English capital that gave her the time to gather the creative forces around her to create Manimals.

The premise of the show is inspired by Hudson’s own dismal experiences with online dating. Her website/game creation Manimals is designed to be a fast track to love, by getting rid of all the bad stuff on other online dating sites that leads to bad matches. The show is in the form of a workshop, where we, the audience, are being coached in the riches of Manimals.

Along the way, we also hear snippets of Hudson’s personal search for love. The immersive part is two-fold. First, we have been supplied with a Manimals app for our cell phones, which is a dating game we get to play during the show. The actual workshop with Hudson is a Zoom call on our laptops, so this is a two-device experience. Hudson also calls on audience members to play roles such as a best friend, a first date, and an advice-giver. Alert: you have to do some pre-show preparation like setting up the Manimals app and creating a dating profile. The title Manimals comes from Hudson’s observation that more and more men on dating sites are posing with exotic animals, which is the centre point of the cell phone game.

It is only after the fact that one sees just how complex Manimals is. Because Hudson plays all the characters, her other personas are pre-recorded, and inserted into Zoom as thumbnails. while she is live with us at the workshop. The Manimals app, designed by Hudson herself, is a thoroughly thought-out dating game that is epic in its scope. Audience members who are brought in to assist Hudson are not just tokens, but have to participate in big ways. In fact, so impressive were my colleagues that I thought they were part of the show, and had to check with Manimals producer that they weren’t. Amy Strike is credited as game dramaturg and designer and, along with creative technician Chloe Mashiter, deserve kudos for pulling together the many complicated technical aspects of Manimals, including putting us in breakout rooms where we get up close and personal with fellow workshop attendees. (My newfound friend was Kitty who was he/they.)

I do, however, have two points of concern. First is the ending that is so abrupt, I had no idea that the show was over, and was completely caught off-guard. Somehow, Hudson and director Flo O’Mahony have got to find a better transition. Second, Hudson takes a magic realism approach to the text when it comes to her personal story. These flights of fancy give the show its quirky sense of whimsy, but it also means that her monologues are like unconnected fragments of thoughts. If you are chained to realism, Hudson’s text will leave you, at times, scratching your head.

On the other hand, taken together, Hudson’s many tangents contain real substance, particularly in portraying the desperation to find “The Right. One”. She also touches on rejection, and the loser-mentality, and the devastation caused by making poor choices. At one point she says that total frustration caused her to “swipe right”, meaning giving “a like”, to every man on the dating site. Clearly, for Hudson, lack of judgement is a serious bi-product in the search for a partner.

Her story also has some mystery as her scary business partner Mikey appears from time-to-time barking out orders like “Don’t play the piano!” and “Shut down this workshop!”, so we wonder about that relationship, and the actual integrity of Hudson herself. The show even includes a section where ex-boyfriends Alex and Mark, portrayed by hand puppets, trash talk Hudson which brings up the trauma of betrayal.

Hudson is a talented actor, and her transformation into her assistant Mimi, or Mikey, is very real. She literally becomes a different person. Hudson is also very good at conveying mood, and must have worked closely with director O’Mahony to discover the fine print of each monologue. Surprisingly, the overall sense of Manimals is melancholy. In a way, it is a very sad show, as increasingly, we discover Hudson is not entirely truthful that her Manimals site helped her find true love.

From an immersive point of view, Manimals certainly keeps the audience busy, and is a fine example of how to create online theatre that is a total embrace of both performer and viewer. A big shout-out goes to Talk Is Free Theatre and artistic director Arkady Spivak for bringing us Manimals’ Canadian premiere. The Barrie-based company is among the most adventurous in the extended GTA, which makes Michelle Hudson’s Manimals a show that is right up Spivak’s alley.

#LUDWIGVAN

Get the daily arts news straight to your inbox.

Sign up for the Ludwig van Daily — classical music and opera in five minutes or less HERE.

Paula Citron
Follow me
Paula Citron
Follow me
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300
comments powered by Disqus

Ludwig Van Toronto

CRITIC'S PICKS | Classical And Opera Streams You Absolutely Need To See This Week: March 15 – 21

By Joseph So on March 15, 2021

Classical music and opera events streaming on the web for the week of March 15 – 21.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300

SCRUTINY | ‘New Societies’ Offers Entertaining, Thought-Provoking Mix Of Game And Theatre

By Paula Citron on March 23, 2021

'New Societies' is an interactive mix of board game strategy and theatre as teams collaborate and compete to survive.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article

THE SCOOP | Quincy Jones Qwest TV Goes All-In With Classical Music Streaming Service

By Michael Vincent on April 12, 2021

Multi Grammy winner Quincy Jones launches Qwest TV Classical to keep up with livestreaming demand.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_low_590x300
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700

We have detected that you are using an adblocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website. Please whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.