Reviews from NEXT STAGE: Pearle Harbour’s Agit-Pop and Kitne Saare Laloo Yahan Pey Hain

by Lynn on January 14, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

From the Next Stage Festival, Toronto, Ont.

Pearle Harbour’s Agit-Pop

Presented by Pearle Harbour

Written by Justin Miller

Directed by Rebecca Ballarin

Musical director, Steven Conway

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

Video designer, Adam Miller

Pearle Harbour is described as “sweet-as-pie and tough as nails.” She is a formidable “drag tragicomedienne” with a sharp sense of humour and a laser-gaze on the way of the world. She needs a sharp sense of humour to deal with the ills of the world we cope with.

In her latest show, Pearle Harbour’s Agit-Pop the frightening state of the world is examined through song, humour and perception. Pearle Harbour usually has a dark perspective on what is going on but now matters are extreme. She reckons it’s two minutes to midnight before it all blows up.

She prepares us with songs of cheer but with an edge. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” has an ironic meaning when Pearle sings it wistfully but with a smile. She has her audience in her sights and can hear a delicate ping of a cell phone no matter where it is in the audience. And when she spies the light of a phone in the balcony she notes that to the owner with her dulcet but pointed tones. She finds the humour in the dark. She has us up on our feet and the reluctant participant in the second row is brought up on stage with her, to perform some body exercises.  It’s good for a laugh before doomsday. She is ably accompanied by Steven Conway on guitar. She also had Kritty Uranowski join her as her special guest. Buoyant, breezy, full voiced.

Justin Miller is the writer and ‘alter-ego’ for Pearle Harbour. Pearle is trim and elegant in a simple stripe-patterned dress, cinched at the waist, gold gloves, and tasteful shoes, exaggerated makeup and eyebrows that look like they are in a constant state of surprise. The body language is elegant and tasteful. The voice is a gravelly purr and the smile is teeth and attitude. Pearle is respectful of the audience but beware if you misbehave or don’t participate. This isn’t aggression; it’s urging her audience to rise to the occasion.

Pearle can be self-deprecating, commenting on how in previous shows the transitions between scenes could have been better. Perhaps the same can be said here. They seemed a bit lax. A little adjustment can’t make them tighter and the pace smoother. Quibbles. Pearle Harbour is one of our best chroniclers of our dark times. We need humorous voices and visions like hers to get us through past midnight in one piece.

The Next Stage Festival continues to Jan. 19.


Kitne Saare Laloo Yahan Pey Hain

Created and performed by Bilal Baig

Directed by Tawiah M’Carthy

Movement coach, Virgilia Griffith

Lighting by André du Toit

Sound by Steph Raposo

Set by Sebastian Marziali

From the press info: “Escaping to the West, a young trans woman runs away from Bangladesh with only one suitcase and a secret. As she fears for her life in her new surroundings, can she trust you to keep her safe? Bilal Baig offers a truthful drama that authentically and unapologetically puts queer and trans bodies at the centre of the storytelling.”

Actually, the young trans woman doesn’t even have a suitcase. She has an orange plastic bag that contains her clothes, a bottle of water and other necessities. We see a young person who looks like a slim man in pants and a jersey running in the moody light of André du Toit. The person looks around, breathless, as if chased by some unseen predator. The person turns around and yells in a language I don’t understand (and with no translation) at someone we don’t see. The yelling is angry, and desperate (I was so curious to know what was being said. What a strange decision not to inform the audience, but I figured there might be a reason. I just wished I knew what that reason was).

When the person feels safe, the person (sorry, I’m not sure of what pronoun to use) goes behind one of three structures on the stage and changes into clothes more comfortable. The person who emerges from behind the structure wears bangled-bracelets, a filled-out form fitting top, a slim, short skirt and heels. The black hair is long and luxurious. (Now that this woman has emerged, I’ll use the pronoun ‘she’). She talks in a delicate voice with a lilting accent. She says she is from Bangladesh and is ‘lost.’ She has landed in Vancouver and is waiting to be picked up at the airport.

Her story emerges and later her deeply held secret. At one point she dances and sings in a language I don’t understand and I hear “Kitne Saare Laloo Yahan Pey Hain”, the lyrics of the song. There is no note of explanation in the programme. (The admin staff of the festival don’t know what it means but someone says it’s in Urdu).

Bilal Baig’s piece has grown and expanded so much since I saw it in a much shorter form, last year as part of Welcome to My Underworld where Baig also performed it. Baig has created such a fascinating, sensitive, complex character in this young trans woman. The woman at once wants to be invisible and yet seen. I love that contradiction. Baig is a poetic, gifted writer. One line alone took my breath away: “My delicate hands hold all my nights and days.” Baig is also a vivid, graceful compelling performer. This is a terrific piece and should be seen. I just wish I knew what the title meant.

The Next Stage Festival continues until Jan. 19.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Coco Lee January 14, 2020 at 3:19 pm

1) One’s physical appearance doesn’t dictate their pronouns. In any other circumstance, if you didn’t want to specify a performer’s gender, you’d say “they,” so why make such a weird fuss of it now?

2) You, a “serious theatregoer” surely know that the first spoken words of a play might not make complete sense to the audience. Use your powers of deduction, why might a playwright and director choose to give some members of the audience the experience of an incomplete understanding? What kind of response might they be trying to provoke?


2 Yolanda January 15, 2020 at 1:13 pm

Again with the racist “I don’t understand this therefore it’s not valid” attitude and now transphobic comments!? You’re really outdoing yourself aren’t you?
I strongly suggest you stop critiquing cultural theatre because your very clear racism and prejudice is showing. Stop. Just stop.