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Much buzzed about play puts audience on Queen E stage

All The Way Home

At Queen Elizabeth Theatre until Jan. 14

If youve already seen All The Way Home, you dont need me to tell you how wonderful and joyful this show is. And if youre one of the lucky souls who already has a ticket, youre in for a treat. But if you dont have a ticket, youre out of luck; the shows five-day run is completely sold out. All you can hope for is that funding is found and All The Way Home will go national, even international.

The buzz has been on for months: theatre-maker, co-founder of the Electric Company Theatre and prestigious Siminovitch prize winner Kim Collier is back in town. And shes gone back to basics with a great story and few of Electric Companys trademark high tech dazzle. American playwright Tad Mosel based this 1961 Pulitzer prize-winning play on James Agees autobiographical novel A Death in the Family, and Collier came across it in the late Pat Armstrongs script collection. It seemed like a gift, says Collier in her program notes. And now Collier, a stellar cast of 17 and a two-dozen strong production team give this gift to Vancouveror those of us lucky enough to see it on the Queen Elizabeth stage.

Not only is the cast on stage, the audience is, too. Seated behind the QEs vast, closed curtain, the audience perches on benches, chairs, pillows on the floor, around a dining room table or up a few stairs into the Follet familys bedroom. We dont even come close to filling the huge QE stage and backstage with its exposed cables, ropes and pulleys. The plays action flows around us, and amongst us in the Follets Kamloops home, circa 1915. With the help of a simple steering wheel, trips in Jay Follets old Tin Lizzie or his brother Ralphs spanking new Chalmers, drive around the outside of the seating area. Huge as the space is, the play itself is intimate, often achingly so.

The storya multi-generational family oneis one of loss: the sudden death of a loved one and how those left behind learn to cope. At the centre are Mary (Meg Roe) and Jay Follet (Jonathon Young) and their six-year-old son Ivan (Jordan Wessels). What a sweet family it is but not without its problems. Youngs Jay is an exuberantly charismatic character with alcohol issues in the past. The always-marvelous Roe is girlish but anxious Mary. Shes anxious about little Ivan whom she dresses like a little gentleman and who is consequently bullied by the rough and tumble neighbourhood country lads, and shes anxious about Jay whose alcoholic brother Ralph (Haig Sutherland) constantly offers Jay his ever-present bottle. Ten-year-old Wessels, is a star in the making: he was Pip in Blackbird Theatres Great Expectations and here hes Ivan, an adorable little boy who will charm the socks off you. (He has already signed with Bard on the Beach for the upcoming season.)

Its a star-studded cast with Gabrielle Rose as hard-of-hearing Grandmother Lynch; Tom McBeath as her gruff, unsentimental husband; Nicola Lipman as Hannah, a rock to hold onto in terrible times; Julia Mackey as Ralphs long-suffering wife Sally; Alessandro Juliani as Marys brother; Donna White, George Young, Aidan Wessels and a chorus of five complete the cast.

Woven throughoutand a huge component of this productions successare songs of the period sung a cappella by the cast in glorious, sometimes heartbreaking, harmony: Get On Board, Its a Long Way to Tipperary, You Are My Sunshine, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, most memorably a song with the recurring line, My honey, my sweet thing, my babe and many more.

There are tears, laughter, tragedy and triumph here. From the play: Some people fall away from us. Some people grow away from us. Thats what living is. All The Way Home is what theatre is.

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