Like a Canadian social studies lesson come to life, No Change in the Weather gives a hefty dose of East Coast history and politics alongside a suite of 18 sea shanties and jaunty jigs.
Even the program is more like a miniature textbook than a playbill – over two dozen full-size pages, the second half of which is devoted to the “story behind the story.” And that story is the tale of the Churchill Falls hydroelectric deal and its fallout, which is at the heart of Newfoundland’s current economic and social woes. Creators Walter Schroeder and Bernardine Stapleton received a commission to put together this production, which is essentially a theatrical depiction of what’s written in the program – how the deal was made, the effect it has had on the people of Newfoundland, and the uncertain future.
The show’s plot is stitched together to serve the delivery of this story and interspersed with lively renditions of Newfoundland music. The assembled characters are the family and friends of recently deceased, 96-year-old Mary Margaret, who are holding a wake for her one foggy Newfoundland night. Over the course of the evening we learn about this family as well as the history of the troubled province they love.
The music is lovely – a great mix of classic and contemporary East Coast songs, complete with a live band on stage. The show’s producer is musician Bob Hallett, one of the founding members of Great Big Sea, so it’s not surprising that this is where the production shines.
The characters are vivid East Coast archetypes: the quirky local gal with a thick Newfoundland brogue who makes coffins out of bric-a-brac that washes up on shore; two estranged brothers who fought over a girl and never got over it, one of whom stayed in the cove and the other of whom went to work in the city; the multiple-degree-holding grand-daughter who moved to Vancouver to pursue higher education; a young pipefitter who worked in Alberta’s oil patch.
This last character is most familiar to an Edmonton audience, of course. The story of Churchill Falls – which is essentially why all those young guys ended up here – is probably less familiar to many Edmontonians, especially younger generations. I don’t recall learning much about it in school, despite the enormous impact it has had on that part of Canada. The East Coast has pervaded Alberta largely due to all those nomadic oil workers, but I don’t think a lot of us have stopped to look at the broader context of this. I appreciated gaining a better picture of it.
Indeed, No Change in the Weather would be most at home touring schools. This is also why the show feels a bit wearisome by the end: it’s a history lesson in musical form. Much of the plot in between the songs is exposition-heavy and pedantic. The music buoys things up and the character renditions are colourful and fun to watch. But it still feels like something you’d see on a school field trip.
The show’s politics come at an interesting time as we head into a polarized federal election. After having watched this show and learned more about the unfortunate circumstances behind Newfoundland’s current troubles, I personally have more sympathy for their plight. But these entreaties might fall on mostly deaf ears here in Alberta, given our own tumultuous economic and political landscape and the incessant “Economy/Jobs/Pipelines” mantra we’ve been fed since the spring.
I hope some of our provincial leaders – who are currently responsible for our own province’s natural resources woes and could stand to learn a thing or two about bad deals – take heed of this show and the lesson behind it. It’s a cautionary tale to government not to let short-sighted gains occlude the long-term wellbeing of the people they are supposed to serve, particularly with large scale capital projects.
Hell, taken in that light, No Change in the Weather starts to feel uncomfortably prophetic for Albertans. I sincerely hope the weather changes in both provinces.
Westbury Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barns
Until Saturday, September 28, 2019
Tickets: Fringe Theatre Adventures
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