The Drawer Boy

Written By Michael Healey
Directed by Gina Wilkinson
Performed by Oliver Dennis, Brendan Gall, John Jarvis
Grand Theatre Production
Grand Theatre, London
October 21 to November 8, 2008
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

A Funny and Endearing Visit to the Farm

The Drawer Boy, which just opened at London’s Grand Theatre, is a challenging production. There’s comedy, but behind the laughs is a heart-warming love story, with an unusual twist to it. To bring all these elements together takes a talented cast. Thankfully, the Grand has provided three solid performers.

The Drawer Boy is based on an actual event. In the seventies, a Toronto theatre company sent a group of young actors to stay with farmers in Huron County to create a play about the farm life. The Farm Show was born and was a celebrated piece of theatre to educate urbanites about rural life.

Many years later, The Blyth Festival commissioned Michael Healy to write a play about the experiences of the young actors who visited Huron County. Healy created Miles (perhaps based on Miles Potter who was one of the actors) who stays with two farmers, Morgan and Angus, in The Drawer Boy.

Brendan Gall is excellent as young Miles. He is nervous and uncomfortable when he arrives at the farm, but eager to capture events and information for the show that is being prepared. Gall shows us Miles’ discomfort, and then we see his confidence build and grow.

John Jarvis plays Morgan, the farmer who pulls Miles’ leg, but yet doesn’t seem to enjoy the humour – at least, not as much as the audience does. Jarvis does well to show that Morgan can enjoy some fun, but is also tired with the never-ending work on the farm, and frustrated by the low commodity prices. Morgan teases Miles with dead-pan seriousness.

Oliver Dennis cleverly handles the difficult role of Angus. Angus has suffered a head injury in World War II, and has memory loss. Dennis is brilliant in showing Angus’ disability. Like Miles, Angus goes through a transformation, adding to the challenge that Dennis handles so well.

The comedy in The Drawer Boy comes from putting a city boy to work on a farm. For those of us who are just a generation or two away from the land, we know that when city folks visit the rural areas, there will always be ways to poke fun at them. The audience roars when Miles believes that they will have to get up early to rotate crops the next morning. Morgan tells him that they will be digging up all the wheat in one field and replanting in another. Morgan also convinces Miles that the dairy cows are tense and nervous, knowing that they will be butchered if they don’t give enough milk.

The Drawer Boy breaks some of the rules of theatre, and does it so well that it enhances the production. Morgan tells Angus a story on stage with no action going on – sometimes a lengthy story can create a lull in a production, but in this case the audience is spellbound. Then later, that story is repeated – again, this risks boring the audience. But we are fascinated, especially by the revelation in the end..

Credit goes to director Gina Wilkinson for putting together the humour, the touching story, and the unusual ending.

The set is a typical farm kitchen. While the fridge is old, the harvest gold stove must have been new in 1972. Attention to detail is evident.

The sound and lighting are excellent in this production. We hear a very realistic sounding tractor start up just offstage. Dogs bark in the distance, crickets chirp at night and the rooster crows in the morning. Later a vehicle starts and headlights beam across the set.

The Grand’s Artistic Director Susan Ferley points out that this was the most performed play in North American in 2003-04, and is still very popular in the United States. Congratulations to playwright Michael Healey for ingeniously blending comedy, tragedy and a surprise disclosure into one fascinating story.

The Drawer Boy continues at the Grand Theatre in London until November 8. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

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