Mark Norman Harris: Apocalypse When

It’s late and the crowd is fidgety when Canadian artist Mark Norman Harris enters from stage right. He’s wearing a glitzy silver-sequined coat over a maritime-striped shirt and diamond-pattered trousers, glinting against the red backdrop like the Jack from an Elvis-themed deck of cards. He plays a single chord on his guitar and an impish smile appears on his face.

Before we have time to take a breath, he embarks on a full-speed monologue about stage-shows, Tallinn, French-speaking Canadians and his guitar. Once he realises there is a New Yorker in the audience, we are treated to a savage-but-hilarious dissection of American culture, which, he tells us, he hates and yet feels incredibly connected to. Everyone, including the New Yorker, is laughing whole-heartedly with him as he informs us that this is not a comedy show and launches into a bouncy dirge.

Mark’s one-man show is a high-energy shot of stand-up comedy and folk song; interconnected stories punctuated by music. He builds up characters and then tears them down, daring us to laugh at him. Throughout his act, he listens intently to the crowd, interacting with the slightest comment and encouraging people to speak up. Halfway through the show, he gives away the sequinned jacket.

We feel as if we’ve made a friend at the same time as he tests our boundaries and commitment to political correctness, speaking from the heart and shooting from the hip. “I have two types of song,” he tells us, “funny and heartbreaking.” That was just before he took his trousers off.

The not-quite-a-cabaret carries on like this at a breakneck speed, with whiplash-inducing shifts from slapstick to pathos. He explores religion, politics and relationships, declaring that he’s clearly an expert on the latter as he has been so many of them. He heartfully tells us about his loneliness before seguing into a petulant peeve about vegans and practitioners of polyamory with a boyish grin during and a hang-dog apologetic look after.

At the end of the set, he pauses and gives the audience a long look. “I have fulfilled my contractual obligations,” he says. “Are you tired or would you like some more?” It’s 11pm. Many of us have been at the venue since seven. Nevertheless, the crowd is unanimous in their desire for more Mark.

This is a complicated stage show, showing off Mark’s wide range of skills as well as his incisive sense of humor. His appearances at Tallinn Fringe 2022 are finished but according to his Facebook page, he is continuing to tour with the show. If you get the chance to watch Mark perform live, don’t miss it.

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