Friday, June 9, 2023

Fringe Review: Hamilton For Beginners is Charming, but not Really a Play

Who: Songscribe Productions
What: Hamilton For Beginners
Where: Tourism Hamilton Visitor Centre (28 James Street North)
When: July 18-28, various dates & times (as part of the Hamilton Fringe Festival

The Mini-series of the Hamilton Fringe Festival is one of its hidden gems. The series is a great way for artists to test out initiatives or concepts and workshop new works to determine if it’s appropriate to turn into full-length productions. In the case of Hamilton for Beginners, the twenty-five minute long production doesn’t need to be expanded, but is a show that this city may not have been aware that it needed.

This production isn’t really a play; at least, not in a technical sense. The host and creator, Mark McNeil speaks from a written script that contains anecdotes and facts about Hamilton and its history that even locals may not know. His set is a large projector screen that displays a powerpoint slide-show of images and information, all controlled by a phone.

The content of the presentation is well-researched and well-compiled. McNeil structures his presentation to contain short, interesting stories and folklore about Hamilton, while also poking gentle fun at the city, its intense passion to promote itself and the inflation of geographical properties (like calling an escarpment a “mountain”). Music is a key component of McNeil’s presentation, which features short, original songs performed on ukulele that are charming and work to break up the monotony of an oral presentation.

Ultimately, while Hamilton for Beginners wasn’t really a play, it’s something that the City of Hamilton may not have realized that it needs. The presentation didn’t work as a play in the formal sense, but would translate well into a cute and quirky tourism YouTube video to promote Hamilton. The presentation is charming and cute, and it would be a worthwhile investment to large tourism events or the City of Hamilton itself to invest in the production and invite McNeil to remount his presentation as part of their activities, either in its current venue of Tourism Hamilton or elsewhere.

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