Photo. Sarah Hoy
The Arts Court Studio was miraculously transformed by designer Brian Smith, into a semi-country space , part barn, part lakeside cottage country, part bar in a pub somewhere up in the bush of Gatineau, Pontiac County and beyond. The story is narrated by young Tommy (Lewis Wynne-Jones) who takes us from Ottawa, back to his past and all the memories of his parents, and the Irish immigrant community that existed in the early 1950s. We go on a long ride up to Low Quebec in Uncle Frank’s beautiful new Buick that moves about 6 miles an hour, depending on the state of the road.The event is recreated by Attila Clemann the slightly strange uncle with the slick hat and cigarette falling from his lips and the expressive body language. He has whipped the group into physical shape so they can perform the trip that passes along the Gatineau River up to Wakefield and into Low Quebec. Janet Irwin has transformed Doyle’s story telling into an oratorio of voices that take turns telling the stories of Mean Hughie, Crazy Will, Aunt Dottie, Baby Bridget and a whole community of extraordinary individuals who inhabited Tommy’s world and left so many precious memories. They also defined the country, and left traces of their dreams and visions in the area, traces that Doyle has picked up and given an eternal life in his book. The result is a form of popular history that tells the tales of the region, just as Donnie Laflamme has captured the French community in Mechanicsville and Hintonburg with his skits involving the outstanding characters that he puts on stage in his own Hintonburg Tales.
Most joyous was Janet Irwin’s staging, the fun filled celebration that spread through the cast and infected the audience. Ian Tamblyn and his musicians added a beautiful texture to that world especially when his native flute captured the emotions tinged with nostalgia of Tim and baby Bridget’s outing in the boat under the moon, or when Tamblyn’s Mongolian bowls sent gentle vibrations over the water as the couple floats by in the night. The instruments were all of his own creation, the result was a magical moment of Ottawa history turned into theatre and the audience, transformed by the effect, projected an enthusiasm that contributed to it almost as much as the actors.
One could not help noting however, that there was definitely an acoustic problem in that performance space, where the stage passed through the middle of the room with the audience on both sides of the ramp. Often the words were muffled by the chorus of voices, or the music drowned out individual voices because the musicians and technicians could not control the volume.
My question is what was such an important performance where sound technology played such a central role, doing in a space that was not even conceived for the Theatre? Wake up please English Theatre at the NAC and take a look around you! Give this star studded cast the space it deserves and remount this play next year in the Studio of the NAC!! Paul Rainville, a member of the NAC English Theatre Company of the 20015-16 season was in it! How can you ignore him.? His incarnation (among many others) of the fighting priest who got Frank off the bottle and sent him on his way in the car was almost contemporary dance, tinged with tough corporeal interpretation. A special moment. But the evening was full of such special moments. Up to Low must come back to Ottawa so that audiences can appreciate it in the conditions that do it full justice.
Up to Low played in Arts Court from May 21 to June 21, 2015.
Up to Low, adapted for the stage and directed by Janet Irwin. Based on the book Up to Low by Brian Doyle.
An Easy Street Production and the Ottawa Children’s Theatre win association with the Magnetic North Theatre Festival.
Music composed and played by Ian Tamblyn and his musicians: Ellen Daly, Pat Maher,
Set by Brian Smith
Costumes by Sarah Waghorn
Lighting by Rebecca Miller
Movement coach Attila Clemann