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KEN CHISHOLM: Humour, heart on HAT stage

George MacKenzie, seen here as Scrooge in the Highland Arts Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” joins Chris Corbett and Kevin Munroe in the HAT's first production of 2020, “The Drawer Boy” opening Tuesday, Jan. 14.
George MacKenzie, seen here as Scrooge in the Highland Arts Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” joins Chris Corbett and Kevin Munroe in the HAT's first production of 2020, “The Drawer Boy” opening Tuesday, Jan. 14. - Contributed

‘The Drawer Boy’ opens at Sydney venue in mid-January

With a new year comes a new play at the Highland Arts Theatre in downtown Sydney.

“‘The Drawer Boy’ is in many ways the perfect Canadian play; it's a small cast, a deceptively simple plot, a wealth of emotional depth, and even though it's set in Ontario it feels instantly relatable and could easily have taken place in Inverness,” said Wesley J. Colford, the artistic and executive director of the HAT’s first production of 2020.

Actor Chris Corbett strikes a miserly pose as Scrooge in the 2019 Highland Arts Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol.”
Actor Chris Corbett strikes a miserly pose as Scrooge in the 2019 Highland Arts Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol.”

“The Drawer Boy,” written by Michael Healey, and directed by Ron Jenkins, runs at the HAT on Sydney’s Bentinck Street from Jan. 14-18 at 8 p.m. nightly, concluding with two performances on Sunday, Jan. 19 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

“While it has an enormous heart, it's not a technically complicated show, which makes it ideal for January which always sneaks up on our production teams after the holiday rush,” said Colford.

“It's a beautiful story that really relies on the talents of the actors and director to come to life, and luckily we have an A+ team on that front.

“January is also a time when we typically have a lot of new people checking out the theatre for the first time, so this show acts as a welcome to introduce them to the kind of work we do with some humour, some heart and world-class local talent.”

“The Drawer Boy” is based on a true story about a group of actors from Toronto who went out to the farms of rural Ontario in the 1970s to create a collective collaboration revu-style show called “The Farm Show.” It was one of the influences, among other shows, behind the original “Rise And Follies of Cape Breton Island.”

Some Cape Breton theatregoers may remember the St. Ann’s Bay Players did a well-received production of “The Drawer Boy” several years ago.

“The Drawer Boy” is a fictional account of one such actor, Miles Potter, who volunteers to work on a farm to learn the secret ins-and-outs of farm life. Along with some more comical realizations ("cows are terrified all the time!"), Miles uncovers a deeply rooted secret that turns the lives of his hosts, Angus and Morgan, on their head.

Sydney actor Kevin Munroe, seen here in “’S Wonderful” at the Highland Arts Theatre, plays Miles, a city boy sent to research farm life, in the HAT’s production of “The Drawer Boy,” opening Tuesday, Jan. 14.
Sydney actor Kevin Munroe, seen here in “’S Wonderful” at the Highland Arts Theatre, plays Miles, a city boy sent to research farm life, in the HAT’s production of “The Drawer Boy,” opening Tuesday, Jan. 14.

The cast is directed by Ron Jenkins, who wanted to direct this play since it first debuted in 1999.

“His unique sensitivity and flair for intimate drama was a perfect fit for this gem of a show,” said Colford.

The cast includes veteran actors (and both Scrooges in the HAT production of “A Christmas Carol”), George MacKenzie and Chris Corbett, as the farmers Angus and Morgan, as well as frequent HAT performer Kevin Munroe who plays Miles, the young urban actor out of his element.

“Each of these actors have a wealth of experience and getting to see them enter the ring together is sure to be a breathtaking exercise in theatricality,” said Colford.

Colford believes the play will deeply resonate with Cape Breton audiences.

“Reading it, the play absolutely feels like it could be set in Cape Breton and the hard-working Scottish/Protestant work ethic is very strong in these characters. There's also a lot of comedy, including taking some of the air out of ‘self-important Toronto artists,’ which I suspect will play as well here as it did in Northern Ontario. It's a testament to the writing that this play has been a massive success all over the country and I think Cape Breton will be no exception.

Colford is also looking ahead to a busy year at the Sydney venue.

“One of our New Year's resolutions is to offer more film screenings as part of our ongoing programming. To start off, we've continued the success of our December ‘Sound of Music' singalong with a whole 2020 movie musical singalong series, starting with ‘Mamma Mia!' on Feb. 15. We'll also have occasional screenings of more contemporary and local films, including ‘I Am Skylar,’ an award-winning documentary about a local Sydney teenager on Jan. 26. Finally, we'll be introducing a classic film series with fan favourites from different decades starting with ‘The Princess Bride’ on Jan. 23. Hopefully people will enjoy seeing these films on the big screen at the HAT.”


IF YOU GO…

  • WHAT: “The Drawer Boy” written by Michael Healey and directed by Ron Jenkins, about a young city actor researching farm life and discovering secrets of his hosts.
  • WHERE: The Highland Arts Theatre, 40 Bentinck St., Sydney.
  • WHEN: Tuesday, Jan. 14 to Saturday, Jan. 18 at 8 p.m., concluding with two performances on Sunday, Jan. 19 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
  • TICKETS: $27 (plus HST) available at HAT box office, open Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., side door of the theatre, and at the lobby box office one hour before showtime. Box office, 902-565-3637; online: tickets.highlandartstheatre.com/.

Ken Chisholm lives in Sydney and has written plays, songs, reviews, magazine articles. He can be reached at thecenterisle@gmail.com.

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