A box of severed appendages sits casually below a shelf full of knives, machetes and meat cleavers splashed with red. Peeking out of a closet is the decayed head of a corpse with bloodshot eyes. But don’t worry. It’s all part of the show.
Cannibal: The Musical is debuting Thursday evening at the Guild Hall Theatre. The performance is based on the real-life story of Alferd Packer, a miner who in 1874 set out in search of gold in the Colorado mountains. It was alleged (but never proven) that Packer murdered and ate five of his travelling companions when stranded in the wild.
Even with such a grim premise, don’t expect a dark, serious plot. “It’s just a very, very silly, lighthearted piece,” said director Brian Fidler. “People can leave their thinking caps at home and just come and watch the ridiculousness and enjoy.”
Originally penned by South Park co-creator Trey Parker, Cannibal employs the same type of bold humour as the popular animated show. “It’s irreverent. That’s what people should walk in expecting,” says Fidler. “Not as hard-edge as South Park. But it’s silly. There’s a lot of silliness.
“You’ll recognize that South Park esthetic and humour to it, where nothing is sacred and everything is silly. No one is spared, really. Just like South Park.”
The Guild’s production of Cannibal also features a recurring cast of 2-D puppets, drawn in a way that’s similar to the well-known style of South Park.
“We wanted to hint at it,” Fidler said. “I think it’s a nice connection to South Park and I think people will recognize it that they’re in the same vein.”
Incorporating puppets into live theatre is not new for Fidler. He got his start touring with Nova Scotia-based Mermaid Theatre, which employed puppetry in it’s productions. Afterwards, Fidler struck out on his own, founding Ramshackle Theatre, and has toured nationally with his unique puppet shows.
When asked by the Guild Hall’s artistic director, Anthony Trombetta, to direct Cannibal, Fidler didn’t have to think for long. “I read the script and my immediate answer was yeah. For sure.
“It seemed like a good challenge for me. There were parts where I couldn’t quite figure out what I was going to do. So then I thought that’s a good sign. I don’t know what I’m going to do there, but I’m going to have to think of something for that.”
Problems such as constantly changing locations in the play came with creative solutions such as swing-out sets that emerge when necessary and retract when finished with. The answer to lopping cast members’ arms and legs was by having the puppets stand in.
But just because they’re 2-D doesn’t mean there won’t be blood. Cast and crew have been busy preparing corpses, blood and other grim props. “It’s kind of a surreal play too, so it’s in keeping with the play to walk into the kitchen and see someone mixing up a vat of blood.”
Fidler isn’t fazed though. “It’s kind of just the norm at the Guild,” he said. “There’s always something kind of crazy going on here with every production. It’s a weird little world, the world of theatre.”
Contact Joel Krahn at