By Jason Rip (using the research notes of Chris Doty)
Directed by Don Fleckser
Performed by Jason Rip, Eva Blahut, Richard Gilmore, Simon Goodwin, Adam Holowitz, Patsy Morgan, Christopher Adrian, Dean Hall, Janice Johnston, Ray Bowen, Justin Quesnelle and Barbara Hunter
A Theatre Nemesis Production
October 5-28, 2006
The Stroll is a welcome returning play that parallels the Open Doors weekend for London. Theatre Nemesis revisits much of the strong work of the original production, with some additional good material as well.
The tour follows much the same structure of the previous version with the ghosts of local murderers, Dr. Cream and Phoebe Campbell leading separate tour groups through the streets of Downtown London. Those two recount their own lurid stories while they introduce the ghosts of other ill fated Londoners like the missing theatre impresario, Ambrose Small and the unfairly blamed Captain Donald Rankin of the ill fated steamer, Queen Victoria, as they tell their own stories of local woe.
The play is as much an entertaining triumph as it was last year, with a subtle remix of humour and horror to add some variety to the tour. For instance, the major addition this year is the story of the sinking of the dangerously overloaded river steamer, Queen Victoria. This story is artfully staged at the river walkway near the splash pad at the Forks of the Thames with a line of the deceased victims of the river disaster laid out on the path. When Captain Rankin suddenly rises from the line, it’s an effective jump moment that grabs your attention with ease. However, the tour’s humanity really comes through as the obvious tragedy, typified with moving power when Barbara Hunter is playing one of the grieving mothers of the disaster, is paralleled with Rankin’s fate. With morbid regret, the Captain (brilliantly played by Justin Quesnelle) tells his tale of how he was blamed for a tragedy that he in fact attempted to avert. With that tale, the compounded tragedy of the sinking is made obvious with excruciating power with a grave injustice adding insult to the profound injury of that terrible day.
Another interesting change was Eva Blahut as Phoebe Campbell. Unlike Claire Porter-Martin, Blahut presents a somewhat warmer version of the axe murderer, which makes her story of how she got an accomplice for her crime feel more logical given her more obvious charm. However, the best new moment with her is the superb confrontation with Ambrose Small’s companion, Dulcey, played with delightful ease by Janice Johnston. In a suddenly violent aside, the chorus girl threatens Campbell with a knife for being called a ‘floozy’, only to instantly concede when the murderess, with firmly silent eloquence, brandishes her axe for a most persuasive argument. In addition, Blahut’s character now interacts with the ghosts of Eldon House to give a folksy relief to the high society haunting that gives that story an entertainingly lighter tone.
In addition, the performances are reduced with fewer acts for each tour subgroup. This creates long stretches where the tour goes considerable distances with relatively little action in between. However, the guides, especially Rip, liven up the dead spots with their signature improvisational humour which was so effective last year. The rest of the show is largely comprised of the players from last year and they do not disappoint the audience with their tested material.
The ‘Lost Soul Stroll’ is a wonderful way to explore the history of London and the beauty of the downtown. Here’s hoping an annual tradition is being born.