Solo storytelling superstar Martin Dockery brings a new show and new story to the Ottawa Fringe Festival. This time it’s a true story about the time he learnt his dad was hiding a new secret family in Vietnam and he had a new pair of twin half-siblings thirty-six years his junior.
Should you see it?
Have you seen Martin Dockery perform one of his solo autobiographical storytelling shows? If so, all you need to know from this review is that The Surprise is Martin Dockery at his finest.
This is Martin Dockery’s third year bringing one of his solo shows to Ottawa. He wowed audiences with Wanderlust in 2012 and rolled them over with The Bike Trip in 2013 (the puns don’t get any better, folks).
In reviews for those shows, I said things like: “… talking with a vibrancy and energy you just need to see …”, “… every move of his arms and legs, down to just his fingers, becomes a grand gesture …”, and “Dockery continues to be one of the most animated and energetic performers I’ve ever seen.”
This hasn’t changed. Martin Dockery has an incredible theatricality and seemingly limitless energy that makes me tired just watching him. He also forges a strong rapport with the audience, greeting and chatting with everybody before and after the show (even during short impromptu breaks in the narrative).
While it’s easy to get caught up in the performance, Dockery backs up his wonderful theatricality with a great sense of rhythm and wordsmithery, perfectly understanding how to lay out and pile on detail into his stories, building to a crescendo and conclusion. Would be, emerging, or even established story tellers can learn a few things watching Dockery work and weave his magic.
The Surprise in particular is a slight departure from Wanderlust and The Bike Trip in that it’s more contained. Whereas those those were big sprawling adventures about searching for meaning and connection in life, The Surprise was about a moment, a small (though no less profound) chapter in Dockery’s life and search for meaning and connection in a relationship.
Even though Martin Dockery mentions that he isn’t a fan of the storyteller label, that’s what he is. Not only that, but he is a master of storytelling. The way he engages an audience is entirely unique; his words propel you into his adventures, while his hands create images out of thin air. When he talks, you can visualize the Vietnamese temple, the steakhouse, the nine-year-old girl selling Christmas ornaments, everything.
Last year, I greatly enjoyed The Bike Trip, but I liked The Surprise even more. This mostly comes down to how this wasn’t an adventure that Dockery initiated himself; it was really just a result of life’s weird twists and turns.
The Surprise is also not just a straightforward story. Through the tale of his newly discovered siblings, Dockery delves into the meaning of family, his relationship with his father and the way romantic relationships can crumble without us noticing. Quite a few vignettes actually left me with chills, leaning in, oblivious to the rest of the audience, wanting to hear more. Martin Dockery is a unique performer and The Surprise is definitely one of my Fringe Festival highlights so far.
What did you think? What’s been your favourite Martin Dockery show to date? Join the discussion and tell me what you think in the comments below.