Director: Eleanor Rhode
Writer: Michael Healey
Reviewer: Antoinette Stott
Michael Healey, inspired by the real life events of 1972, in which actors from Theatre Passe Muraille had gone to live with farmers in Ontario Canada, he wrote the Drawer boy. The play is perhaps a hard product to sell, the action follows Miles, a young actor, staying on Morgan and Angus’ farm in the hopes of being inspired into helping his collective create a theatrical story about farmers and farm life, not exactly sexy, but what comes to life on stage is humorous and affecting.
Using an old archetype of strangers who try to help but only end up hindering; Miles, in his enthusiasm to know and understand the lives of the two men he lives with, pushes for information about their past, prodding and poking until a tragic truth is revealed, one that is both hard to swallow and yet seems to bring a type of peace to both men.
The play encompasses many themes and topics from farming, politics, to country verses city struggles, to questions of what is public and what is private; in creating art that uses real peoples stories and words, the issues of intrusiveness and betrayal, while also being an agent of healing by bringing peoples history out into the open allowing them to confront it see it from another angle.
At its core though it is a story about Morgan and Angus, about their shared history, it is about stories we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to make life easier, but how these lies can trap us. It’s about facing up to our past, up to our guilt, to forgive and live with truth.
John Bett and Neil McCaul are captivating in their respective rôles, John Bett creating a wholly believable performance of a man unable to remember one moment to the next yet still retains higher functioning math skills and under it a vague acceptance and understanding his own predicament, his performance is nuanced and without any self awareness. Neil McCaul as Morgan is compelling, skilfully portraying a man with both terrible guilt and terrible loneliness, but has accepted the facts of his life and lives it the best he can. Miles the young actor is played with enthusiasm and innocence by Simon Lee Phillips bringing many many laughs, most especially with his memorable impression of Daisy the stressed milk producing cow. The ensemble works well together and Eleanor Rhode’s direction and use of the small space and setting is shrewd and dynamic. The pace is well set, moving inexorably faster and faster as Angus starts to remember things towards the grand reveal.
The only issues that emerged with this play were on the technical side: the lighting does not flow and seems to jump distractingly and the music, which plays throughout all thescene changes and sometimes into and around a scene, is mawkish and sometimes set the teeth on edge.
All in all a very enjoyable play, emotionally satisfying and certainly has more than enough humour and silliness -at the expense of Miles- to tickle your funny bone.