Spectacular sea story comes to stage

Brodie Thomas
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Play tells true heroic tale of Ann Harvey, a teenager who helped rescue passengers after a shipwreck in 1828

Ann Harvey was only 17 when she helped rescue 163 survivors from the wreck of the Despatch in 1828.

Now a 17-year-old actress from Ann’s hometown of Isle aux Morts has stepped into Ann’s shoes for a dramatic retelling of the Harvey rescue story called “Song of the Mermaid.”

Victoria Seymour was selected to play the heroine’s role after taking part in production workshops earlier this spring.

The play, written by Memorial University professor and playwright Jamie Skidmore, tells the story mainly from the point of view of survivors of the wreck.

Most of the actors take on several roles in the play, from spectators listening to the story being retold, to passengers on the ship, to the heroes of Isle aux Morts who made the rescue.

Seymour said she took part in the spring workshops because of her love of acting and drama.

“I wasn’t expecting a role, but I was really excited when I did get one,” she said.

She found out she would play Ann at the beginning of June, and it has become a summer job for her. She and the four other actors had to rehearse the play for two weeks leading up to opening night July 5.

“It was awesome,” Seymour said of her crash course in professional acting.

Like so many residents of Isle aux Morts, Seymour says she can trace her family tree back to the famous Harvey clan. She said her mother’s maiden name is Harvey.

Actress Lesley Dove Smith plays multiple roles in the play, including the captain of the Despatch.

She said learning to play the role of a male character was challenging.

“Trying to get the mannerisms down and the transitions, it was difficult. But hopefully it all worked out.”

Smith said it was her first visit to the southwest corner of the island, but she felt at home right away.

“They totally just welcomed us in here,” she said. “A couple of captains took us out in their boats. We went all day and it was really cool. We went to the actual island that Ann Harvey lived on.”

Isle aux Morts resident Blanford Billard was at the play opening night.

He had helped lead the charge to develop a play about the Harvey rescue story after the Harris Centre held meetings in Port aux Basques in 2012.

Billard was community development assistant at that time and has long been a promoter of the Ann Harvey story. He said the Harris Centre was looking for ways to assist rural Newfoundland communities, and the idea of a play came up.

From there, he said, they looked for experts on Memorial University’s search engine, yaffle.ca, and found Skidmore.

Billard said the play is easily as good as anything he has seen at the Gros Morne Theatre Festival. He said the idea was to create a play like “Tempting Providence,” which gives a dramatic retelling of a real story about real characters.

After seven shows in Isle aux Morts, the actors will perform “Song of the Mermaid” in St. John’s at the LSPU Hall, the Grand Bank Theatre Festival, the Loft Theatre in Clarenville and the New World Theatre Project in Cupids.

The next shows at Hairyman’s Safe Haven Café will be July 26, 27 and 28. Contact the Town of Isle aux Morts for details and ticket information (www.isleauxmorts.ca; 709-698-3441).

 

The Gulf News

Organizations: Harris Centre, Gros Morne Theatre, Grand Bank Theatre Loft Theatre New World Theatre Town of Isleaux Morts Gulf News

Geographic location: Isle aux Morts, Port aux Basques, Newfoundland Clarenville Cupids.The

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