Reviews: WING NIGHT AT THE BOOT and 1837: THE FARMERS’ REVOLT, at the Blyth Festival

by Lynn on September 4, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Blyth Festival, Blyth Memorial Community Hall, Blyth, Ont.


Wing Night at the Boot

Written by the company

Directed by Severn Thompson

Set by Jenna McCutchen

Costumes by Jennifer Triemstra –Johnston

Lighting by Itai Erdal

Sound by Heidi Chan

Cast: Georgina Beaty

Graham Cuthbertson

Marion Day

Nathan Howe

Tony Munch

Daniel Roberts

A one joke show performed with joyous commitment by the cast.

The Story.  The show is a composite of various interviews the company did with people who had memories of “The Boot” or as it’s officially know, “The Blyth Inn.” This is the hotel/bar/restaurant that is across the street from the Blyth Memorial Community Hall where the productions are performed. The nick-name of “The Boot” came about because of the farmer’s muddy boots that they cleaned off at the door; or because they took off their boots at the door; or……

There are sweet stories when a family bought the place and ran the bar, shared stories, indulged customers and worked hard to maintain the place. There are endless stories of how people came to the bar regularly and drank until they were sick, puked on the sidewalk and went home. Or they drank until they were blind-drunk, got into fights and bled on the sidewalk beside the puke and went home. There are stories of lost, lonely people coming to “the Boot” for friendship, companionship, to pick up women, men, etc.

You get the point.

The Production. Audience members can buy a beer on stage before the show and during intermission. Some of the cast pour a glass for the patrons in the audience who want to partake. It’s friendly, cheerful, easy and a lovely touch.

Graham Cuthbertson tells a wild story about a regular drinker at the Boot who has to drive to Clinton before the beer store closes. He drives like a maniac and the story involves the police, drunk driving, an accident and damage. It’s funny and horrifying. The stalwart, energetic cast recreate the intricate process of making wings on wing night (Thursdays).

Director Severn Thompson directs with a sure hand. The scenes flow beautifully from story to poignant story in a seamless way. Georgina Beaty plays a disappointed, angry woman whose partner has ‘wandered’ and also a waitress (among others) who is sad in her dead-end job. Marion Day enlivens the various characters she plays. Nathan Howe defines “sad-sack” characters and plays them beautifully. Tony Munch is the gracious hotel owner, among others. And Daniel Roberts plays his various characters with commitment and humour.

Comment. People who have a history with “The Boot” will recognize the characters and the stories. For the rest of us, it’s a one joke show of drinking until you are sick or hurt. No thanks.

 Presented by The Blyth Festival

From: Aug. 8, 2018.

Closes: Sept. 15, 2018.

Running Time:  2 hours 15 minutes.


1837: The Farmer’s Revolt.

Written by Rick Salutin and Theatre Passe Muraille

Directed by Gil Garratt

Set, projections and lighting design by Beth Kates

Costumes by Gemma James Smith

Sound and music composition by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Matthew Gin

Marcia Johnson

Lorne Kennedy

Omar Alex Khan

Parmida Vand

While 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt is part of Canadian theatre history it is past its best-by date.

The Story. Farmers wanting a better life, cleared land and planted without actually buying the land. They believed that if they worked it and made the land produce they could take possession. Then rich men bought land that had been cleared by these farmers and the farmers had no legal right to own it. They could not afford the cost of an acre. The price of land changed without their knowing it.

Eventually the farmers were organized to protest and fight by William Lyon MacKenzie (coincidentally I went to a high school named after him.)

The Production. Gil Garratt has directed an ambitious, lively production. Beth Kates has designed a very textured set with walls that look like crumpled paper and props of the period, over which are projected an abundance of projections to augment the scenes. Beth Kates’ projections are always imaginative and generally help realize the tone and sense of the scenes, but I fear matters get out of hand here. There is an easel centre stage on which is a large book. A woman enters carrying a camera that gets a close-up of the book. It’s a collection of Canadian plays and a character enters and flips through the pages of the plays, (I see The Ecstasy of Rita Joe) until the person stops at 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt. The camera pans into the title page etc. I can’t read it because the background is uneven and the focus is fuzzy. Too often projections are splashed on the crumpled paper walls or surroundings on the set and making out what I’m supposed to see is difficult, frustrating and distracting if there is a scene going on. This story is complicated enough without having it further complicated with projections that over state the case.

The cast is stalwart in playing various characters but remembering who they all are and how they factor into the story is also difficult because there are so many characters and they have not been properly developed or explained.

For all the good will and enthusiasm of the cast and the busy invention of Gil Garratt and Beth Kates the production doesn’t work because the play doesn’t work.

 Comment. 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt got its start at the Blyth Festival. It was improvised by the actors and ‘written down’ in 1974 by Rick Salutin. It has played across the country, been taught in schools and is a cornerstone of the Canadian theatre. But I fear that it’s passed its ‘best-by’ (buy?). Up until last year the play had rarely been done since the 1970s. Last year the Shaw Festival did a production that was also well-intentioned but ultimately didn’t work either because the play was self-defeating.

The play started in Blyth but only now has it been revived. I think there is a reason for this infrequency—the play is too complicated with too many characters that have not been developed enough to be memorable. Keeping track of all the disjointed storylines, the under-developed characters and the plodding details make the enterprise deadly. Enough.

From: Aug. 1, 2018.

Closes: Sept. 15, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes approx.

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