Tales and music, past and present combine in Story

Lennie MacPherson
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This ‘smooth, thoughtful presentation’ at The Guild comes wrapped up in a ‘real tidy package’

Story is a lesson in marketing.

This ambitious production has managed to distinguish itself amidst the 2014 hooplah. Culling from the anecdotes of Islanders, including the many collected by Island historian David Weale, Story is very much in the vein of Come-All-Ye and, before that, the Potato-Time Reviews. It’s a sort of passing of the guard, if you will, from simple stool-on-stage storytelling to a more multimedia and many-faceted experience. All with, of course, a great regard for the origins.

In many ways, the material is well trod ground on stage and in daily conversation, but Islanders never seem to tire of hearing our jokes. And what truly distinguishes this show, as the title suggests, is its dissertation on the nature of stories themselves. If this sounds like a bit of a lofty and indefinable concept, the elegantly whittled narrative proves otherwise. When our eponymous guide, played with gentle pizazz by actor Mike Walker, dances through the poignant observations, you’ll catch yourself many times doing a little out-breath from your nostrils, struck by the nimble turns of phrase.

In addition to the lovely prose, the show particularly impresses with its clever direction. Though Colin Buchanan has much experience in many areas of art and performance, and (as he astutely describes in his welcome message) in the less formal arenas of storytelling, I understand this role to be somewhat new. But here, he shows vision and a keen sense for the audience experience.

Some respected performers join the young production team. Veteran storyteller Alan Buchanan’s natural charm had the audience hanging by his every lilted word. Hank Stinson, a bit more of a theatrical school, but with a most friendly demeanour, further proved that between him, Alan, Mike  and David, having good hair correlates directly to spinning a good yarn.

Between tales, a trio of local musicians tag in with song. Ably colouring the sounds from behind the curtain, on keys, is Brad Fremlin. Ashley Condon, whose warm smile is no doubt familiar to audiences now, plays some of her tunes. And because I’m not cool anymore, I’d not yet heard the infectious music of Dylan Menzie. Though his disaffected gaze may seem like he doesn’t want to be there, you’ll not want to let him leave the stage.

There are many people bringing homemade treats to this community spread. A nice lemon tart, good old reliable spider cookies, something with cream cheese. A very small serving of sometimes serious moments were left unfinished on my plate, as they seemed a little disconnected from the overarching theme and tone of the show. But it should be noted that those same bits seemed well-appreciated by the rest in attendance. Perhaps just a matter of me expecting chocolate chips, not raisins.

But the production itself is a very clean, smooth, thoughtful presentation. As digital projectors elbow their way more and more into traditional live theatre, I see too often the tendency in other shows to forget the mantra that “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Here, the projections are introduced and played out with taste and relevance and patience. They add mood and atmosphere and may be the most artfully cohesive use of digital projections I’ve yet seen.

Overall, again, right from marketing to final curtain call, it’s a real tidy package.

When the year is over, the legacy that remains won’t be the random big names at festivals or a boost in room nights, it will be that local artists (and makers of all definitions) were able to manifest earnest and purposeful projects. I expect people will be talking about this show for a while.

Lennie MacPherson, a Charlottetown-based writer, actor and musician, writes theatre reviews for The Guardian during the summer months. He welcomes feedback at mockmywoods@gmail.com.

Organizations: The Guild, Come-All-Ye, Potato-Time Reviews

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