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If you would like to know more about the origins of church music and crave a wash of light entertainment, Mass Hysterical is probably the show you’ve been looking for. Rob Lindsay’s comic compilation of satirical sketches, orchestral interludes and opera is a blunder to the senses and also the perfect concoction for a great laugh. With the comedy legend Colin Mochrie leading the ensemble as the wacky professor, we are lead through unconventional history lessons of holy music. The main cast: Carly Heffernan, Ashley Comeau, Darryl Hinds and Chris Siddiqi, embellish these somewhat educational scenes with slapstick and pop culture references. Not forgetting the angelic Mass Hysterical chorus who support them at any given moment.
As most performances do these days, Mass Hysterical began with a reminder of how the pandemic has caused the production to go digital. Initially, my thespian mindset thinks this isn’t going to be up to scratch. The visible desktop bar in random scenes does give a whiff that the production is definitely not meant for screen-viewing. However, they use elements of this to their advantage in spinning the classical ‘Turn Off Your Cell Phones’ and ‘Interlude Break’ into comedic reminders of this new, replacement of the theatre space. Although I think the animated Mochrie may have been a step too far into silly comedy, the overall production of the piece is rather impressive. The seamless harmonies from the chorus, each performer filmed separately in their home, showcase the impressive editing throughout the piece. In stitching all these voices together, Lindsay successfully creates that traditional church ambience that married perfectly to the tongue in cheek scenes of monks in hoodies.
Matthew Reid and Heffernan’s impeccable writing is undeniably entertaining. I can only imagine what the physical comedy would have looked like on stage, but the intimate facial expressions and expert timing executed on-screen manages to tease a few loud giggles from me. The playful scenarios created in each scene I can only describe as like an adult version of Horrible Histories. Brilliantly silly and melodramatic, we as the audience can easily sit back and let the inside jokes unfurl before our eyes without any effort. This piece brings out the relaxed expectations that are brought with a comedy cantata, and is exactly what the spectator wants as they are eased into hot bath of laughter that the cast playfully radiates.
The underbelly of the performance rests on the great Toronto Symphony that echoes in and around each comical beat. The renowned opera sensations; Russel Braun and Julia Dawson add another dimension of talent to the production, whilst still impressively belting parody lyrics into their webcams. It is this that makes Mass Hysterical a rich melting pot of nonchalant comedy and precise skill and talent. It is a diverse compilation of artistic fields that are seemingly tied together by pure joy in entertaining us at home.
Mass Hysterical is playing on stream.theatre’s website until 23 May 2021.