Kingfisher Days

Kingfisher Days

KingfisherDays

By Susan Coyne
Directed by Susan Ferley
Performed by Nigel Bennett, Burgandy Code, and Deborah Hay
Grand Theatre, London
January 18 to February 5, 2011
Reviewed by Mary Alderson 

Memories of Halcyon Days 

 Snow was crunching under our heels on the coldest night of this bitter 2011 winter, as we hurried down Richmond Street to London’s Grand Theatre. Inside, it’s summer 1963 at a cottage in Lake of the Woods, and little Susan Coyne radiates warmth.

This is a delightful childhood play, based on Coyne’s memoirs.  She is a five-year-old girl, spending the summer at the family cottage.  While her siblings are engaged in their own adventures, her father preoccupied with cross-word puzzles, and her mother busy painting, little Susan befriends Mr. Moir, her elderly neighbour.  She visits his cottage and together they work in the garden.  But most surprisingly, Susan receives letters from a fairy, which Mr. Moir reads to her, and assists her with her correspondence.

Deborah Hay is perfect as little Susan – the shy, uncomfortable girl who grows into her friendship with her older neighbour.  Hay becomes the twitchy, awkward child, but also demonstrates that this little girl is wise beyond her years.  Hay is also excellent as she makes the shift to the adult Susan who is the story’s narrator.  She arrives late on stage as the show opens, a busy working mother rushing here to tell us her story, flustered with her slide show presentation and her “time management issues”.  Hay was a favourite last summer in One Touch of Venus at the Shaw Festival, and we look forward to seeing her as Eliza Doolittle in Shaw’s My Fair Lady this summer.

Nigel Bennet is endearing as the neighbour Mr. Moir, and creates humour in the role of Susan’s father.  As Moir, his warmth is evident without becoming overly sweet.  He also teaches Susan but is never didactic.  

Burgandy Code provides the comedy as the mother – like Forrest Gump’s Mama, she spouts endless aphorisms, raising her children by the rules of her quirky little sayings. Code also has the difficult task of performing as the fairy Nootsie Tah, where she wears what I assume is typical Peruvian fairy clothing, including a colourful Inca outfit.  She also narrates some of the long letters that Susan receives from the fairy. 

The opening of the show, set in today’s time, with the adult Susan giving us a slide show of Ontario birds, is captivating.  We learn about the Kingfisher, also known as the Halcyon, bringing the calmness of a long summer’s day.  I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the Ontario place names, talking about the train trip from Toronto’s Union Station, or the visits to Kenora.  Director Susan Ferley has created a wonderful nostalgia trip as we are carried back to 1963.  The set, including the rocks and trees of northern Ontario, makes our trip complete.  The story is real, and I totally identified with little Susan. 

But while many theatre-goers will love the enchantment and magic of the fairy’s letters, which the real-life Mr. Moir created to amuse and entertain Susan, I found the production slowed down when they were read.  I was so enjoying being in the reality of the summer of ‘63 that I didn’t want to be taken to an unlikely fairy and elf world.   Others, no doubt, will like the supernatural, and appreciate it more than I did.

Kingfisher Days continues at the Grand Theatre in London until February 5.  Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 519-672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593, or visit www.grandtheatre.com .

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