A Gripping Story Well Told
The Festival Players of Prince Edward County’s location under the stars at The Eddie Hotel & Farm is in sharp contrast to the story being told. While theatregoers sit in comfortable folding chairs in the open air on a grassy field with the sun setting behind them, Beneath Springhill leaves the audience feeling claustrophobic in a small space two miles underground when a coal mine collapses.
The play is based on the true story of Maurice Ruddick, a coal miner, who along with six others, is trapped during a “bump” (an underground earthquake in a mine) in Springhill, Nova Scotia in 1958.
Beau Dixon wrote and stars in this one-man play. He plays 10 roles – Ruddick plus six other miners each with his own personality, his wife Norma, his daughter Valerie and a CBC reporter. The search for survivors was famous for being the first major international event to be broadcast live on TV.
Ruddick is mixed race, or mulatto as he called himself. Racism is a theme throughout the play; for example, Ruddick sits down with another miner, Percy, as they open their lunch boxes down in the mine. Percy says it’s ok for them to eat together in the mine, but they can’t do it above ground. Ruddick also relates incidents where he is called the n-word.
Ruddick had wanted to be a singer, but ended up married, with 12 children, and working in a coal mine like his father before him. Nevertheless, he keeps singing and enjoys entertaining others. Dixon’s Ruddick has a zest for life and an optimistic outlook. His attitude serves him well when trapped in the confined space in the coal mine. Despite the death of one fellow miner, Ruddick manages to keep hope alive that they will be rescued.
Finally, after nine days the group is rescued, thanks to Ruddick banging on an air pipe. The other five credit him for saving their lives by singing to them and encouraging them throughout their long ordeal.
He is awarded Citizen of the Year in Canada, and the news attracts wide attention. The Governor of Georgia invited the miners to come to a resort but when he found out that Ruddick was a coloured person, as they said in those days of racial segregation, the Governor informed Ruddick couldn’t stay at the resort. Ruddick said he wouldn’t go, and the other five turned down the invitation. The Governor then offered Ruddick a trailer to stay in, and Ruddick accepted, saying he didn’t want his friends to miss out on this free trip.
There were 75 men killed in this mining disaster. Ruddick never went back to work in the mine after the disaster. Instead he formed a singing group with his family and travelled the Atlantic Provinces putting on shows.
Dixon plays the 10 parts perfectly, his voice and mannerisms changing with each role. Sometimes he adds a shirt or hat – the CBC reporter appropriately wears a fedora. Dixon’s portrayal of Ruddick’s 10-year-old daughter Valerie provides comic relief with her giggles and grins.
Dixon’s rich singing voice is perfect for relating Ruddick’s songs.
Credit goes to the Festival Players for their attention to Covid protocol. The outdoor pavilion houses the stage while the audience is seated in distanced groupings.
The Maurice Ruddick story is a fascinating account of Canadian hero, who are so often forgotten. We owe our gratitude to Beau Dixon for sharing and spreading this history.
Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story continues with the Festival Players of Prince Edward County at The Eddie Hotel & Farm, Bloomfield until August 1. For tickets, visit https://www.festivalplayers.ca/.
This play runs for 60 minutes with no intermission.
Photo: Beau Dixon as Maurice Ruddick in Beneath Springhill. Dixon wrote and acts in the play. Photo by Kristen Leboeuf.
Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story
Created and Performed by Beau Dixon
Music and Lyrics by Rob Fortin and Susan Newman
Directed and Developed by Linda Kash
The Festival Players of Prince Edward County
Outdoors at The Eddie Hotel & Farm, Bloomfield
July 21 to August 1, 2021
Reviewed by Mary Alderson