Review: THIS LONDON LIFE, Grand Theatre, London, Ont.

by Lynn on November 1, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Grand Theatre, London, Ont.


Written and directed by Morris Panych

Set and costumes by Ken MacDonald

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound and composition by Keith Thomas

Cast: Cynthia Jimenez-Hicks

Allister MacDonald

Rebecca Northan

Ryan Shaw

Braeden Soltys

Wendy Thatcher

This London Life is suffused with Morris Panych’s loopy, quirky sense of humour about mistaken identity, a lousy sense of direction and place and finally finding oneself where they should be.

 The Story. Walter Winch feels he is invisible if he doesn’t drink lemon juice. His mother died from consumption, (really a drug over dose, but consumption sounds better according to him) and his sibling was adopted but he wasn’t because he says, no one noticed him there. The horrible Mrs. Simpson took charge of Walter as his foster parent. She uses him to sell bogus raffle tickets pocketing the money. Walter spends most of his time next door at Nan’s house. She left London, England years before to escape her life and came to Canada where she was wooed by two men, one of whom she knew the other not. Then moved to London, Ont. As a favour to one of her former wooers she agrees to take in Emery who is coming from across the country to study in London. Instead Jimmy shows up with a broken leg, broken by drug dealers. Jimmy is not sure where he is. The place where he is has various names of places (Covent Garden, Piccadilly, etc.)  similar to another place he knows but nothing looks familiar.

Welcome to the off-kilter world of playwright/director Morris Panych. Where nothing is what it seems but it all seems what it should be. And it’s seriously hilarious.

The Production.  Ken MacDonald has created an imposing, gothic-looking house where Nan (a wonderfully straightforward yet wry Wendy Thatcher) lives. One can imagine every room packed with stuff (Nan apparently is a hoarder), although she seems rather neat. One long table is off to the side of the house with small piles of books on it. She keeps more books  in the stove because the shelves are full of stuff that should not be there. We take on faith that this is the way it is for Nan in London (Ont. not the ‘other London’ which is how it’s described).

Walter Winch (Ryan Shaw) is our narrator. He is resplendent in a brown suit, small bow tie, has a mop of hair and wears glasses. He is precocious, erudite, curious, inquisitive and ten-years-old. He should be at school but since Mrs. Simpson (Rebecca Northan), his foster ‘mother’ doesn’t care Walter spends his time sleuthing around the neighbourhood or hanging out with Nan next door. Ryan Shaw has that serious demeanor that makes his observations funny. They are at odds with his behaviour. And considering that the words come from Morris Panych who knows his way around a world that is off-kilter, everything Walter says is hilarious and his observations are so true. Ryan Shaw’s banter with Wendy Thatcher as Nan is fluid, seamless and dear. She is a woman who has seen it all and is accommodating to all comers, although she is wonderfully confused about a lot of the coming and going. Her reason for getting married is that there is too much tuna fish in the tin for only one person. You gotta love a person like that who puts things so clearly and with such common sense.

Characters appear from no where—Mrs. Simpson just shows up and stands there facing the audience, a woman full of attitude.  Rebecca Northan with her exaggerated hair do plays Mrs. Simpson with a cigarette in her hand and a disdainful attitude, especially towards Walter. There is not one shred of sentimentality in this performance and it’s wonderful.

 Jimmy with his broken leg is played by Allister MacDonald with a dancer’s grace as he negotiates the space on crutches. He has an English accent and his frustration gets more and more pronounced because he cannot understand why everything is so strange here in London. He thinks it’s the ‘other one’ and no one twigs to that quickly.

Cynthia Jimenez-Hicks plays Rae-Ann, a waif-like character who sings only about leaving town but never does. She is another quirky character in a play full of them. Why she is there is not a question one should ask of a Panych play. She’s funny, mournful and sweet. That’s enough.  Emery is played by Braeden Soltys with a quiet sense of confusion. Nan thinks he’s a mortgage broker even though he’s dressed as a student complete with back pack and bags.

Morris Panych writes and directs with his usual panache. The humour comes naturally from each of these multi-faceted characters. They are prickly, get into trouble, soldier on (in most cases) and cope. Panych does have a moral code—those who cause trouble to others cruelly get their comeuppance.  There is sweetness but not mushy sentimentality.

Comment. This London Life is a commission from Artistic Director, Dennis Garnhum. Years ago Morris Panych and his partner Ken MacDonald played at the Grand Theatre in Billy Bishop Goes to War and loved the experience and the audience. Panych reacquainted himself with London, Ont. in preparation for the play. It’s a beautiful melding of the proud people of London, Ont. mirroring the names of ‘the other London’ but still instilling their own personality into their London with the blazing sense of humour of Morris Panych. Every time Rae-Ann sang of a place in London, Ont. or a road or some oddity, the knowing audience roared with laughter. It was catchy.   

The Grand Theatre presents:

Began: Oct. 15, 2019.

Saw it: Oct. 30, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 2, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, one intermission.

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