Fringe review: Dead Broke is a bold genre gamble that pays off


dead broke fringe 2022
Photo by Calvin Petersen and Will King

DEAD BROKE by Will King (Lost Dreams Collective/Toronto Fringe Festival). At the Tarragon Extraspace (30 Bridgman). July 16 at 10 pm, July 17 at 7:45 pm. See listing. Rating: NNNN

A naturalistic Gen Z drama meets a low-budget horror property in Will King’s fresh and inventive new play, one of the most pleasant surprises at the Fringe.

After Oliver (playwright King) changes majors at university, his father cuts off his funding, but rather than move in with girlfriend Charlotte (Courtney Keir) he decides to squat in an empty building next to the current apartment he shares with his friend Johnny (Gordon Harper). At a party, however, Oliver discovers the place has a notorious history. And that’s when the creepy fun begins.

From the start, King and director Calvin Petersen do such a good at job setting up Oliver’s situation – and the actors are so fully present in their roles – that you’re drawn in and care about what happens to everyone. The show is so effective that when a character looks out into the audience and mentions something on the wall, you’ll believe it’s there.

And when some odd things start happening on designer Julia Kim’s set, you’ll accept them and buckle in.

While horror is a staple of indie movies, it’s not often attempted at the theatre. But King and Petersen have found a clever low-budget way to do it, complete with many of its tropes: rumbling bass (King designed the sound), some tension-releasing humour (wait until you meet Tina Turner), a sense of entrapment… there’s even a line about a Ouija board.

The central metaphor, about a broke generation with no escape, could be tweaked a little. But this is terrific theatre, full of committed, fresh performances (the cast also includes Claire Shenstone-Harris and Elle Reimer).

With many theatre companies wondering how to entice younger audiences to the stage, this could be a fine gateway show. Just make sure there are some extra late-night performances.




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