The Team on the Hill

Funny and Touching Look at Farm Succession

Once again playwright Dan Needles demonstrates his amazing ability to get to the heart of farm life.  In his play The Team on the Hill, now on stage at the Blyth Festival Theatre, Needles examines the question of farm succession.  Can three generations exist together on the farm?

Dan Needles is the well-known creator of the Wingfield Farm series, the many hilarious plays made famous by actor Rod Beattie.  Needles also wrote Ed’s Garage, another comical look at rural life. 

In The Team on the Hill, Larry has just graduated from agricultural college and wants to come home and take over the family farm.  He and his girlfriend Leeanne, arrive at home, greeted by Grandpa, Dad and Mom.  It soon becomes apparent that Grandpa’s mind wanders and sometimes he wanders with it.  He is in the early stages of dementia and has trouble remembering Leeanne’s name among other things.  In fact, he often sees a team of horses working the land on the hill.  But we are told that farm horses were never used in his lifetime.

Dad and Larry have different opinions about crops and how to manage the farm.  Larry wants ownership or at least a partnership while Dad just wants to pay Larry to be the hired hand.  Obviously, this clash in ideas can come to no good, and Needles draws us into this family’s complicated situation as history attempts to repeat itself.  This story will resonate across generations with anyone who wants to preserve the family farm.

At first, I was uncomfortable with the laughter created by Grandpa’s dementia.  But soon, I realized that Needles is not mocking Grandpa; he is just going along with whatever is in Grandpa’s world.  Grandpa himself can laugh at his own confusion.  In fact, Needles’ hallmark humour comes from Grandpa’s witty descriptions and fast responses.

Layne Coleman owns the stage as Grandpa Austin.  His comedic timing is perfect and he portrays the confusion of early dementia accurately.  He endears himself to the audience without being pitiable.

Kurtis Leon Baker is excellent as the young Larry, keen to bring new ideas to the farm, but knowing he has to tread carefully.  Tony Munch as the father is angry and resistant to change, while Julie Tamiko Manning as the mother keeps the family together.  Lucy Meanwell plays Larry’s girlfriend Leeanne.

Most of the play takes place on the comfortable farmhouse verandah where Grandpa likes to sit and survey the farm activities.  But occasionally the action is in the farm kitchen behind the verandah, and the audience has to see the characters through a screen, which makes them seem distant.  It would be better if the audience was in the kitchen with the family.

The conclusion will tug at your heartstrings.  But there is a wonderful little revelation in the end of the story, which clinches its endearing conclusion.  Any family that has wondered how to transition the farm from father to son will appreciate this heartwarming play.

The Team on the Hill continues in repertory at the Blyth Festival until September 5.  Call 519-523-9300 / 1-877-862-5984 or go to www.blythfestival.com for tickets.

Photo: Austin (Layne Coleman) sits on the porch overlooking the farm fields.  Photo by Terry Manzo.

The Team on the Hill
By Dan Needles
Directed by Severn Thompson
Performed by Layne Coleman, Kurtis Leon Baker, Julie Tamiko Manning, Lucy Meanwell, Tony Munch.
Blyth Festival Production
Blyth Festival Theatre, Blyth
July 31 to September 5, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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