Monday, July 19, 2010


Images: Top - David Radford and Paul Terry in The Importance of Being Earnest; Bottom - The company of Good Timber [Photo credit: David Lowe].

1. It's been an exceptionally busy month for summer theatre in Victoria. You saw two very different shows last week. What made them so different from each other?

Well, other than one of them being a musical revue and the other one a comedy of manners, what really struck me was the class difference between the two. Good Timber offers a musical portrait of the lives of working class people, specifically the loggers of British Columbia in the first half of the 20th century. The Importance of Being Earnest, on the other hand, gives us a satirical picture of the lives of the British upper classes at the turn of the 20th century, the idle rich who ate lots of crustless cucumber sandwiches. So, quite a jump from one show to the other.

2. Let's begin with the musical revue Good Timber at the Royal BC Museum. How does this collaborative project work on stage?

I didn’t know what to expect from this collaborative venture between the local theatre production company The Other Guys, headed by Ross Desprez, and the Royal BC Museum. I was delighted with the show, which is an 80 minute musical presentation of the poems of BC’s version of Robert Service, Robert Swenson. I have lived in BC for 12 years, but I am ashamed to say I had never heard of Swenson, who spent time with loggers in the BC forests and wrote poems about their lives. As with Service’s poems about the goldminers of the Klondike, Swenson created an invaluable record of a life that is now mostly lost, the tough work carried out by loggers with little technology to help them fell giant trees in the BC interior. No matter how we feel about logging in general (and in a nice touch, the show begins with an offstage song to the trees and the spirits that inhabit them), we can’t help but be impressed with the amazingly difficult and oftentimes dangerous work these men undertook. The show features a number of Swenson’s popular poems set to music that are performed with great energy and skill by a company of very talented local actor/musicians, all of whom play a number of different instruments. Kelt and Colleen Eccleston, of the folk group The Ecclestons, are in the company, along with musician John Gogo, director/producer Ross Desprez, and actors Mark Hellman and Sarah Donald (Donald was seen in Blue Bridge’s season last summer). Tobin Stokes is the musical director and the show sounds terrific with songs created by various company members, in various musical styles and often with plenty of humor. Behind the small stage in the museum is another feature of the show, a slide and video show created from the BC Archives by John Carswell. These evocative images add a valuable educational element to the show.

3. Now for the contrasting production at Craigdarroch Castle. Oscar Wilde's ever-popular comedy of manners seems a good fit...what was it like seeing this play on the grounds of the castle?

The play and the castle came into being at the same time, in the 1890’s, and therefore are a great pairing. However, director Ian Case—who has mounted a number of shows in the castle that move from room to room—is doing something new with this summer production. An open-ended tent has been sent up on the castle grounds with the castle itself serving as a backdrop. The production features a number of well-known local actors; Paul Terry as John Worthing, Karen Lee Pickett as his love interest Gwendolyn, Geli Bartlet as Lady Bracknell and Kate Rubin as Miss Prism. The remainder of the company keeps up very well with these more seasoned performers; David Radford as Algernon Montcrieff, Christina Patterson as Cecily Cardew, and Simon Cowie as Dr. Chasuble. Case has directed a faithful version of the play that offers about one laugh for every two lines and clips along at a good pace. The women’s costumes are very attractive and the men’s serviceable and the minimal sets and lights create the needed atmosphere. The night I saw the show there were a few distractions with castle visitors coming out the back door of the castle, clearly unaware a play was being presented, and unwelcome mosquitoes descending at dusk. However, these were minor problems compared to the pleasure of seeing Wilde’s great comedy performed with accomplishment by this company. I was sorry to see a small house at the performance I attended; I hope Victoria theatre-goers will turn out in large numbers this week for the final shows.

4. Victoria theatregoers have an embarrassment of riches these days, with more to come. Does this surprise you in the wake of the significant funding cuts to the arts here in BC this year?

Yes, this has been an unusually active theatre month in town and another show is opening this week (Billy Bishop Goes to War at the Belfry). The deep funding cuts to arts groups in BC this past year have been severe and very damaging; however, artists and companies will try to survive and create new works, as we are seeing here in Victoria. The major shift is in how much more important a good box office becomes when a company lacks the financial cushion of provincial funding support. That means it is that much more important for theatre lovers to get out and support the productions being mounted…the producing companies’ survival may literally depend on your ticket purchase. Luckily, there are a number of wonderful shows to see, as I have found this past week with these two productions at the museum and the castle.

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