Tempting Providence

Tempting Providence

By Robert Chafe
Directed by Jillian Keiley
Performed by Deidre Gillard-Rowlings, Darryl Hopkins, Willow Kean, Robert Wyatt Thorne.
Theatre Newfoundland Labrador Production
The Grand Theatre, London
March 13 to March 31, 2012
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Newfoundland’s Florence Nightingale

A century of service along the coast of Newfoundland comes to life on the stage of London’s Grand Theatre, by way of Cornerbrook. The production of Tempting Providence, from Theatre Newfoundland Labrador is educating the rest of Canada, telling the true story of a heroine.

Nurse Myra travels from England to take on a two year contract as a nurse, providing the sole source of medical help to Newfoundlanders up and down the unforgiving coast line. She delivers babies, extracts teeth, and even prevents miscarriages. She marries Angus Bennett and stays on, continuing as a nurse, leaving Angus to manage the household and look after their baby.

The cast – a foursome who are all on the stage for the entire show – are all excellent. Deirdre Gillard-Rowlings shows us the tough and dedicated Nurse Bennett while giving us a glimpse of her vulnerability, and Darryl Hopkins is charming as her husband Angus. Willow Kean plays an assortment of neighbours and patients, and provides much of the humour in the production with her delightful Newfie accent. Robert Wyatt Thorne covers the role of Angus’ brother Alex as well as young boys and patients.

Angus narrates the endearing story – it includes determination, love and comedy. The audience is enamoured by Nurse’s strong spirit. But we see her softer side when lives are lost, or when Angus falls in love with her. She believes she is marrying because it is the practical thing to so, but we see the love grow between the couple. And despite the bleak, rugged setting, and demanding, discouraging work that Nurse is doing, her story is still infused with humour.

In one funny scene, a boy (Wyatt Thorne) has been walking on a fence and taken a fall into a straddling position. His mother, (Kean) smacks him on the side of the head for his foolish behaviour, while the all-business nurse tries to examine the patient who is overwhelmed with embarrassment.

Nurse tries to become more domesticated, knowing that she needs to bake bread and darn socks to keep a husband happy. After her attempts at baking, her neighbour, Mary, with some quick head bobs, tells her, “Your bread is fine. (pause) It will be better with time.”

The set is minimal: a table and four chairs with a white table cloth. They are used constantly to represent various things. The table becomes bed, or a wall, or even a house. The chairs are a boat, a crib, a backpack, a cradle, a stall, and sleigh. And the table cloth can be a blanket, a shawl, a wedding gown, and when twisted firmly, a baby.

The movement of the chairs and table as they morph into other objects is carefully choreographed. The table cloth is flapped and folded with great care to become numerous props. In the beginning, it was fascinating to see all the pieces evolve into other things. But as the show went on, it became a little tiresome – we knew that a change was coming. At times the flourish of the movement of chairs or the folding and rolling of the cloth almost became distractions, pulling us away from the story being told.

Nevertheless, it is a wonderful piece of theatre. The story of Myra Bennett is fascinating Newfoundland lore – and, thanks to Newfoundland joining confederation in Nurse’s lifetime, now the rest of us can claim the play as Canadiana. Myra Bennett lived to be 100 years old, passing away in 1990, but not before she received many honours for her lifetime of dedication to the folks of her adopted land.

Tempting Providence continues at the Grand Theatre, London until March 31. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.


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