TJ Dawe has earned his reputation as a storyteller. A Canadian Bartender at Butlin’s is the most conversational of all the performances I’ve seen at the Fringe so far. Some of it is dramatized, but for the most part we simply see TJ sharing some of the stories of his life with us, recounting them casually and humorously like someone entertaining his friends around a campfire. Yet this is just a conceit. We do not see the usual stumbling of speech, groping for memories, or pawing for the right word that one would expect from a campfire story. Canadian Bartender is beautifully polished.
That probably isn’t surprising because, although this staging is TJ’s first re-mount of the show in fifteen years, prior to that time TJ had learned it by rote. It’s the story of a young TJ’s sabbatical to a small, struggling seaside resort in England. The performance is one part narrative, one part observational comedy. This includes some beautifully witty and mildly dark humour about death as well as a lot of observations about the differences between English and Canadian culture.
Some of these cultural differences seemed to me a little obvious. I wonder if, in the intervening years, Netflix and YouTube have made Canadians more aware of English customs and idioms? Or could it be just me?
Overall, Canadian Bartender is a lot of fun and a truly nourishing experience. At the end, beneath the disarming wit and humour, the thought-provoking asides, and the absorbing narrative voice, we can also marvel at the craftsmanship required to make every element of the story come together into a satisfying whole.
A Canadian Bartender at Butlin's by TJ Dawe is playing at the Firehall Arts Centre 6 - 16 September as part of the 2018 Vancouver Fringe Festival.
~ reviewed by Mattias Martens
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