Technology distracts from good, local story in '1837: The Farmers' Revolt' - Aug. 16, 2018
BY DENNY SCOTT
There is a great tale to be told in the Blyth Festival’s production of 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt, but much of it seems to be lost in translation.
The play, which premiered at the Blyth Festival on Aug. 3, is a historical play with history in Blyth.
While it originally premiered in Toronto, the play was further refined through workshopping at Blyth Memorial Hall. That work occurred at a point in the hall’s history when it was deemed so unsafe that the creative team had to sign waivers just to be in the building.
The play focuses on a quashed rebellion led by William Lyon Mackenzie, with the first act highlighting what led to the 1837 rebellion against the government of Upper Canada. The second act focuses on the actual rebellion, with a significant amount of focus on Colonel Anthony Van Egmond and his role in the failed coup.
Van Egmond is a significant part of local history as Egmondville is named for him and his historic home still exists in the Huron East village.
The first act of the play was difficult to follow with all the actors donning so many different guises that it was hard to tell which, if any scenes were connected.
The play attempts to demonstrate how the English-run government was corrupt, prompting the revolt, and further that the English royalty and aristocracy were out of touch with the realities of the colony. While those messages are important to the narrative, the message was understood long before it stopped being delivered.
While the first act seemed to be repetitive, the second and final act was somewhat redemptive, featuring more forward momentum and connected storylines, allowing the actors to flex their creative muscles in bringing the characters to life.
Given that the play is based on historical facts, the ending is somewhat known, but the second act adventure is worthwhile.
Throughout both acts, however, technology distracted from the content of the play and the abilities of the actors.
Multiple portions of the play feature a camera on a heavy-duty tripod being moved around the stage to highlight specific activities on stage.
While the idea is interesting, the technology wasn’t capable of implementing it properly.
Parts of the play rely on the projection, instead of it supporting the production.
Unfortunately, being so reliant on those projections highlighted the latency between the projection and the action on stage. Like watching a vintage dubbed martial arts movie, the lips in the larger-than-life projections didn’t match up with the words being broadcast by the actors. It was distracting at best.
At the start of the play, the limitations of the technology were also problematic, as the projections were used to show the contents of a history book in the opening scene. The projection was displayed on a textured surface, muddling the narrative and making it hard to follow.
The projections may have been possible, but they didn’t seem necessary to the play.
While a Wizard of Oz-like head could be projected, this reviewer thinks it should have been left to the established abilities of the actors on stage.
As stated above, it’s a good story, but there are a lot of distractions, both in the content of the play and its production. The saving grace for every distraction is the talent of the actors who performed admirably, bringing the historic characters from both Ontario and Huron County history to life.
1837: The Farmers’ Revolt is on stage until Sept. 15. Tickets are available through the Blyth Festival box office 1-877-862-5984.