Photo courtesy Gateway Theatre and Mere Players Theatre
Friday’s opening night performance of Beverley Elliott’s Sink or Swim showed all the strengths of homegrown theatre done with finesse and heart.
Sometimes, homemade means slapped together, but here, this time, it meant done with all the painstaking skill of an artist with fully-honed abilities.
The show opens with a large screen, we hear the projector, see the mid ‘60s home movies family life on the farm.
Then Beverley Elliott tells us in words and song of her life on the family farm in her rich, warm, clear voice.
This is not a play you watch. This is something you experience, with all your memories and all your heart.
The quality of Elliott’s creation and performance is so great that you don’t notice the technique, only the story that sweeps you into her Grade 1 life.
You enter a world and long-forgotten memories jump to mind as the story tugs at your heart strings and jiggles your funny bones.
The universality of experiences astounded me and my fellow theatre-goers.
In our hearts we all knew that we too would have eaten the fish food, given the conundrum the five-year-old faced.
The sound for the entire production seemed unamplified but the wee, tell-tale mike spoke of the sound person’s skill at creating this natural effect that left every seat in the house the perfect spot to be.
Often, particularly on opening nights, the music, one of the singers, or the background sound will be too loud or too soft. That’s not the case with Sink or Swim.
The synchronization of sounds and levels was like figure skating pairs, moving with timing so perfect it seems inborn.
Bill Costin’s musical direction, live music and singing never predominated and always deepened the impact of the happy and the sad times as Elliott spun a tale of her life as a five-year-old learning the ways of the next stage of childhood, away from full time life with mom on the farm.
One thing we all agreed on, mean Grade 8 boys can be scary when you’re five.
Lighting so unobtrusive that I asked the technical producer if the lighting had just been static, set from the beginning and just left.
He told me no, that it was dynamic lighting, always changing. It was so subtly-done that, like something properly spiced, it never predominated but blended into the whole to make the experience all the more real.
This is stage craft at its finest. It doesn’t get better than this, anywhere.
Memories blink to the surface, ring true, conjuring my memories.
In discussions with the audience at the reception afterwards, each person I spoke with picked out different aspects of the performance that evoked vivid remembrances from childhood, often long-forgotten, regardless of where they grew up.
Ivan Fecan, who once made programming decisions for NBC, CBC, and CTV, frequently said that he sought stories true to place, well-told because they were universal. That’s what Beverley Elliott’s Sink of Swim offers, a good story, well-told and true to place.
Gateway’s studio theatre is small and intimate. There isn’t a bad seat in the house which is a good thing because it’s not assigned seating.
If you don’t go early to line up, you take whatever spots are left but everyone can see, hear, and more importantly feel the performances brilliantly.
The set was simple and well-used. Elliott’s imagination, her stories have you right from the get-go.
At the reception after the performance, as we snacked on healthy, tasty treats from the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel, there seemed to be universal agreement from audience members that Sink or Swim is a spectacular success.
As we munched on our chocolate sponge with whipped cream icing and chocolate sprinkles from Anna’s, whether city or country kids, most people I spoke with said they were going to try to convince their family members to take in the show this week.
Gateway Theatre’s offering is well-respected throughout the Lower Mainland and I was surprised to learn how many in the audience make the journey to Richmond from elsewhere because of the quality of our community theatre’s professional productions.
Like homegrown food, the flavour and texture of the fresh strawberries, tomatoes, beans—all grown to perfect ripeness, ripeness that wouldn’t allow for shipping from field to store to home, that flavour and texture abound in Sink or Swim.
Like the crunch of a perfect MacIntosh apple eaten under the tree from which it’s just been picked, Elliott’s work as a playwright and performer makes a theatrical meal fit for a queen.
The only complaint is that it went by too fast.
At one point, about a half hour in, there was a pause, everyone clapped as the the lights dimmed, the actor and musician bowed to the audience.
That was it. The play was over. I looked at my watch, it had really been the full running time, almost an hour and a half.
So full of flavour, so vivid, so many true memories conjured.
Sink or Swim, homegrown memories, full of texture, colour with great, true taste. Don’t miss it. The show only runs through Saturday, Nov 25.
For ticket information, visit gatewaytheatre.com/sinkorswim