Review: BENEATH SPRINGHILL: The Maurice Ruddick Story.

by Lynn on February 12, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in Person at Theatre Orangeville, Orangeville, Ont. Plays until February 26, 2023.

Written by Beau Dixon

Music and lyrics by Rob Fortin and Susan Newman

Directed by Bobby Garcia

Set by Beckie Morris

Costumes by Alex Amini

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Sound by Malcolm Dow

Cast: Jeremiah Sparks

A moving play about the Springhill, Nova Scotia mining disaster and how one man, Maurice Ruddick, saved five of his fellow miners. A play about resilience and faith.

The Story. Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story takes place in late October 1958. Maurice Ruddick is a charming, happy African-Canadian man of mixed race. He’s 46. He always wanted to be a musician. He played guitar and wrote songs. But musicians don’t make a lot of money and Maurice is married with 12 children.  He needed to make money so he worked in the Springhill mine. And it was dangerous.

Maurice and six of his co-workers were working two miles underground. It took them 20 minutes to get down to their site by an ‘elevator.’

On Oct. 23, 1958 there was a ‘bump’ a disturbance in the mine and rather than the walls collapsing in, the floor in the mine in fact blew upward. Maurice and his co-workers were trapped down there for a week. One was seriously hurt. His arm was caught under huge rocks and the other miners could not budge it off him. Maurice was instrumental in rallying the men: singing to them, making sure they shared any food they had and encouraging them when they lost hope.

The Production. Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story is a play with music.Designer Beckie Morris has created the opening of the mine shaft with a kind of train track with slats, that leads up stage into the ‘mine.’ It looks forbidding. The walls at the side of the set suggest that shaft, two miles below the surface. The set captures the precarious world of Nova Scotia mining at the time. 

Jeremiah Sparks plays all the parts especially Maurice Ruddick. The joy in Maurice’s life comes from his music and the love of his family. He always seemed to be singing or remembering moments in his family’s life that gave him joy. He was also a church-going man and his faith was instrumental in keeping his spirits up and those of his fellow miners, trapped with him down there. Sparks sings and plays the guitar wonderfully. He gives Maurice Ruddick great dignity and joy. And his faith comes shining through in this work.

When Jeremiah Sparks changed from playing Maurice to playing either a CBC reporter or some of the other men in the mine, director Bobby Garcia conveyed this simply and efficiently. As the CBC reporter, Jeremiah Sparks would stand stiffly, assumed a deliberate way of speaking and Louise Guinand would illuminate him with different lighting. Later when Sparks had to quickly assume the identity of other miners trapped along with Maurice, Sparks assumed a different voice and Guinand changed the lighting again, to a more shadowy hew. Each character was distinct and clear.

If I had a quibble it’s that at times Sparks was not easy to understand; either the diction or projection was a bit off. But most of the times, he illuminated the struggle those men had of holding on to hope that after a week they would survive and be found alive. The gradual loss of energy as they ran out of food and water was quite moving. Jeremiah kept his faith and made his fellow miners keep those. He even got a racist bigot to see that there is no difference in people because of skin colour.

The play touches on the racism Maurice endured and the lack of bitterness he had when dealing with it. He passed that work ethic onto his children. So by the time the men go down into the mine on that fateful day, we know the kind of man Maurice is and his strong character and we embrace him and have a stake in his survival.

Comment. Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story talks about a horrific disaster in Canadian history. It also talks about the hero of that ordeal, Maurice Ruddick, a man who wanted to be a musician, but was a miner to support his family. In that disaster, he was the guiding light, the hope and the salvation of his fellow miners. He never gave up hope and faith. It save them in the end.

Theatre Orangeville Presents:

Opened: Feb. 10, 2023

Closes: Feb. 26, 2023

Running Time: 75 minutes (no intermission)

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.