This London Life

Written on October 24th, 2019

No, I was born in London, Ontario, Canada

There’s a comedy on stage at the Grand Theatre in London (make that London, Ontario Canada) called This London Life.  And no, it’s not about the insurance company that makes its home in the palatial, stately building with the lush green lawn around it on Dufferin Street in London, Ontario, Canada.  It’s a funny story about the confusion between our London in Ontario, Canada and London in England, Great Britain.

It’s a bit of a farce.  There are no doors to slam, but there’s a rambling big house for characters to roam around.  And there are some crazy mistaken identities. This London Life is a comedy with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.

The play was commissioned by the Grand’s Artistic Director Dennis Garnham.  He was looking for a story about the confusion between the two Londons.  Canada’s brilliant playwright Morris Panych took up the call, and created a comedy based on one young man’s confusion about where he is. 

Nan (Wendy Thatcher) is a widow trying to decide if she will continue living in her big house in London, Ontario.  Next door is Mrs. Simpson (Rebecca Northan), a foster mother who’s in it for her cigarette money, not for her love of kids.  One of Mrs. Simpson’s foster boys is Walter Winch (Ryan Shaw), a precocious boy who knows Mrs. Simpson isn’t treating him right, so he hangs out with the kind-hearted Nan.  Rae-Ann (Cynthia Jimenez-Hicks) is a street kid, a teenage girl without a home who strums her guitar, sings her own creative songs, and also hangs around Nan’s house.  Into this mix of misfits come two unusual young men, Jimmy (Allister MacDonald) and Emery (Braeden Soltys). There appears to be some confusion between London, Ontario and London, England, especially with places like Covent Garden Market and streets with the same name.  There are even mentions of places around London, such as Exeter and Grand Bend. The audience loves the familiarity of it all, seeing their home town on the stage.

Child actor Ryan Shaw as Walter steals the show.  Think Young Sheldon, a smart kid who grates on the nerves of those around him, but prefers to spend all his time with adults rather than other kids.  He’s a delightful miniature Sherlock Holmes who solves mysteries and corrects grammar.

Northan, well known at the Grand for her improv skills, is hilarious as the scheming, lazy foster mother.  She has her kids sell fundraising tickets for a draw but there is never a prize.  The entire cast adds to the comedy with their own quirky back stories.  I can’t reveal any more for fear of spoiling the plot.

The conclusion is not quite as satisfying as I would have liked.  After coming so far with the story, I would like to know what ultimately happens to everyone.  One character is left up in the air.

Playwright Morris Panych deserves credit for building a farce of mistaken locations and identities.  His partner Ken MacDonald has created an outstanding set — a big old house with an entrance designed to lead the audience to the various rooms out front.

The play is a cute comedy, but unfortunately, we are not likely to see it on other stages.  Because the setting is so specific to London, Ontario, it’s not likely that theatres in other cities will be interested in producing it.  It’s too bad to put all this work into a show for just one location, but hey, it is great while it lasts!

This London Life continues at the Grand Theatre, London until May 18.  Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.

Photo: Rebecca Northan as Mrs. Simpson and Ryan Shaw as Walter Winch, in This London Life. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

This London Life
By Morris Panych
Directed by Morris Panych
Performed by Cynthia Jimenez-Hicks, Allister MacDonald, Rebecca Northan, Ryan Shaw, Braeden Soltys, Wendy Thatcher.
Grand Theatre, London
October 15 to November 2, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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