'Wing Night' captures Festival's relationship with watering hole - Aug. 16, 2018
BY DENNY SCOTT
Sometimes you want to go where you know everybody’s name and, if you’re familiar with the history of The Boot (whether you call it the Blyth Inn or the Commercial), Wing Night at the Boot provides that opportunity.
From the early historical creation of the inn, as told through the notes of a pair of local historians, to the days of bloody brawls outside the back door to the modern day owners and changes that have happened over the years, those who have heard the stories can be confident they will see them brought to life on the Memorial Hall stage.
The classic tale is handled in a classic manner, relying on light cues, the ability of the creative team both in front of and behind the scenes, tableaus and the story itself which results in a raw theatre experience that fits the content of the story.
The play is equal parts comedy and drunken debauchery that has been commonplace at the Boot over the years, as well as the more emotional and dramatic aspects of Blyth’s longest-lasting watering hole.
While the names have been changed, as Artistic Director and creative team member Gil Garratt explains, “to protect the innocent and the guilty”, there are some characters whose inspiration shines through.
Brock and the late Janis Vodden, the local historians mentioned above, for example, are well portrayed by Tony Munch and Marion Day. Their interactions with each other, patterns of speech and appearance make the real-life inspiration behind their characters clear to many and Day and Munch play no small part in that.
Other familiar faces are brought to life, again, thanks to the efforts of the creative crew, and for those who know the inspirations behind the role, the references are easy to connect.
For example, the more modern-day faces of the Boot, from a pair of divorced farmers to some of the establishment’s more memorable staff and long-time regulars are brought to life by Georgina Beaty, Graham Cuthbertson, Nathan Howe, Daniel Roberts, Day and Munch.
The year of interviewing, collecting and dramatizing the play was obviously well-spent as the final product is a polished one, directed by Blyth Festival familiar-face Severn Thompson.
While the play was great, there were some gaps in the storytelling that would have been nice to see filled. For example, the jump from the earliest days of the inn, including its inception, the growth of competition and what resulted in it being the unique stone building it is today, to near-modernity, comparatively speaking, left this reviewer wanting more.
To be fair, I left the theatre wanting more of everything really. The stories and the interactions were exciting and fun and deserved to be on stage. More of all of it would have been welcome, but the time period between the early 20th century and the later decades could have been explored more thoroughly. That said, the history may not have been there, reflecting a lack of source material.
The music, while somewhat sparse, added some fun and an upbeat air to the play.
Any review about Wing Night at the Boot wouldn’t be complete without addressing the great audience interaction that the play includes.
There is the obvious, such as encouraging the audience to participate in some impromptu karaoke through a tune anyone who lives in Huron County should know to the decision to have beer served on stage before the show and during intermission.
These beverages, on opening night, were served by the actors in the play, giving audience members a great opportunity to chat with the cast.
That kind of reaching out and connecting to the audience is important, especially for this play because the Blyth Festival and the Boot have a long shared history, with actors from the former visiting the latter after performances for an impromptu (and immediate) review with the people who had attended the show.
Encouraging that connection, that “rubbing of elbows” shows that the cast, crew and administration still understand the importance of that accessibility, and the gesture adds significantly to an already great play.
Wing Night at the Boot plays through Sept. 15. Tickets are available through the box office at 1-877-862-5984.