Tom Thomson: The Art and the Mystery
I love to hear Canadian stories and Colours in the Storm is a captivating story, because it is about a fascinating figure, Tom Thomson. He is, of course, famous for his art. His paintings of Algonquin Park are recognized as Canada’s best. He directly influenced other painters who eventually became The Group of Seven after Thomson’s death. But as well as learning about Thomson’s art, we are introduced to his fascinating, albeit short, life. Was he murdered? And where is his final resting place?
Thomson’s passion for his art and the intrigue of his death and burial offer the makings of a fascinating musical, Colours in the Storm, now on stage at London’s Grand Theatre. For art, history and Canadiana buffs, this show should not be missed.
We start off seeing Thomson in Toronto. He’s set against a busy, noisy streetscape of clanking streetcars and chugging automobiles in the 1912 city. The old sepia tone photos projected on the stage are excellent.
Then Thomson goes to Algonquin Park where two slabs of rock are moved about to create the scene, and a cloud appears overhead. Again, the projections give us some scenes of his paintings or old photographs depicting such things as the Mowat Lodge.
We learn about Thomson from the people in his life as he returns to Algonquin Park each summer.
Jay Davis gives us a passionate Thomson, always searching for just the right shade of grey to match the colours in the sky as a storm rolls in. Ma-Anne Dionisio is Winnie Trainor, Thomson’s love interest, while Binashee-Quae Coouchie-Nabigon plays Annie Fraser, a married woman who admires him, and Wild Mary, an indigenous woman who haunts him. All three actors possess strong voices and the women’s vocal numbers are outstanding.
The rest of the cast is well-rounded and several capably handle two roles. The Algonquin men are not impressed with Thomson: Tim Funnell plays Martin Bletcher, Winnie’s other suitor, who doesn’t interest her. He also handles the role of park ranger Mark Robinson. Gab Desmond plays Shannon Fraser, the hard-drinking owner of the Mowat Lodge. He’s jealous of his wife’s interest in Thomson. Desmond also handles the role of Lawren Harris, a painter inspired by Thomson, later part of the Group of Seven. Micheal Dufays is both Winnie’s father Hugh and Larry Dixon who becomes a character in one of Thomson’s paintings.
Seana-Lee Wood is Winnie’s mother Marie and also Frances McGillvray, a supporter of the arts who propositions Thomson. J. D. Nicholsen is Dr. James McCallum, who becomes Thomson’s sponsor, supporting him while he paints.
Throughout the show we learn tidbits of Thomson’s life. For example, Thomson was first a graphic artist. Injecting humour into the show, characters are more impressed with the fact that he was an artist for Eaton’s Catalogue than they are with his work, until one person reminds them of what they do with their old catalogues.
The first act moves along smoothly – the dialogue is excellent and the musical numbers are well done. But once the story of his life and mysterious death is told, the second act slows. The story circles back to present the various possibilities of Thomson’s death, which were already covered earlier. The show would benefit from editing and a tighter conclusion, wrapping it up sooner.
Colours in the Storm continues at the Grand Theatre, London until May 6. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.
Photo: Jay Davis as Tom Thomson. Photo by Claus Andersen.
Colours in the Storm
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jim Betts
Directed by Heather Davies
Musical Direction by Marek Norman
Performed by Binaeshee-Quae Couchie-Nabigon, Jay Davis, Gab Desmond, Ma-Anne Dionisio, Michael Dufays, Tim Funnell, J. D. Nicholsen, Seana-Lee Wood
Grand Theatre, London
April 18 to May 6, 2017
Reviewed by Mary Alderson