The Trophy Hunt, presented by MadFandango Theatre Collective at the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival, is a roving site-specific piece about predator and prey in the urban jungle. Taking place at 401 Richmond, playing several times per night, and accommodating only 25 audience members per performance, it takes its audience on a sort of twisted summer-camp safari where we hear monologues from three characters on both sides of the hunt.
Including myself, there were only three brave souls in the 10pm slot, which made the large, nearly empty building seem downright spooky. I imagine things feel rather different at a sunny 7pm showing, but I’d actually recommend the late-night session if you like things a little eerie. It added a lot to the atmosphere, particularly when paired with the nervousness of our “experience guide” Amy (Bonnie Ings), who met us at the entrance. Jittery Amy is on her first day, not yet having achieved the fourth-favourite counselor status she enjoyed at her last camp, and fusses over our well-being as we move to two different locations to hear the evocative monologues.
The travel aspect was very entertaining, and each move was creative, involving the discovery of people and items in unexpected places. In fact, I wish they had exploited that even more; with such an enormous building space, perhaps we could have traveled further. Audience participation is limited to these segments, and I found it mild and relatively comfortable.
The three monologue performers exhibit an unsettling, mesmerizing intensity. We’re told not to make eye contact, but it’s hard to look away. Parker (Richard Beaume) has been vilified by an online mob for paying to stalk and kill a trophy lion which turned out to have a name and collar. He beseeches us to see things from his pro-hunting point of view; after all, an animal won’t live happily ever after just because its life doesn’t end at your hand. Jan (Priya Laishram) is a guide who accepts obscene amounts of money from “assholes” in exchange for a guaranteed wild kill, so she can continue to live her life in the bush. Soraya (Hilary Weston) vows she will never go hungry again, and seeks to hunt any of these new intruders to the land that is rightfully hers. Frustrated, wistful, and proud in turn, they seek understanding for their choices.
I enjoyed both aspects of the show, but felt they could have come together more clearly. Though being pulled along as a hapless camper led by an even more hapless guide was a lot of fun, I wasn’t entirely sure whether we were supposed to be representatives of the kind of “assholes” who pay big bucks to shoot rare African animals, or whether we were merely observing them, and if so, why? Each of the monologues was very well-written, so I really wanted something to pull them together at the end before we were deposited back where we started; instead, we heard each one in isolation, and then things petered out.
Playwright Trina Davies says that her play is premiering simultaneously in five different Canadian cities, some site-specific and some in traditional venues, and I wonder if the guided tour is an addition for this particular venue; that would explain the slight disconnect with the rest of the script. Still, this way it’s much more entertaining and less in need of a clear wrap-up than a traditional staging would have been.
Our guide kept hilariously begging us to leave her a review on TripAdvisor. I don’t know if this website counts, but here goes: The Trophy Hunt is a fun, unusual site-specific adventure and a series of thought-provoking statements on the ethics of both sport hunting and Internet mob justice, a new, different kind of sport hunting. Your guide will be very kind and accommodating. And she will get you back in one piece…probably. If you’re game.
- The Trophy Hunt plays at 401 Richmond. (401 Richmond St. W.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: mature language; not recommended for children.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Thursday July 4th, 7:00 pm
- Thursday July 4th, 8:00 pm
- Thursday July 4th, 9:00 pm
- Thursday July 4th, 10:00 pm
- Friday July 5th, 7:00 pm
- Friday July 5th, 8:00 pm
- Friday July 5th, 9:00 pm
- Friday July 5th, 10:00 pm
- Saturday July 6th, 6:00 pm
- Saturday July 6th, 7:00 pm
- Saturday July 6th, 8:00 pm
- Saturday July 6th, 9:00 pm
- Saturday July 6th, 10:00 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 7:00 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 8:00 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 9:00 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 10:00 pm
- Friday July 12th, 7:00 pm
- Friday July 12th, 8:00 pm
- Friday July 12th, 9:00 pm
- Friday July 12th, 10:00 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 6:00 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 7:00 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 8:00 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 9:00 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 10:00 pm
Photo of Richard Beaune, Hillary Warden and Priya Laishram by David Leyes