Honestly! The songs and stories of Nancy White and Erskine Smith
Review by Katie Rankin
Storytelling and song are often considered one and the same, but that doesn’t mean telling stories and singing songs always go together like peanut butter and jelly. They’re different forms of entertainment and when you stick them together there should be a common theme and cohesion. In Honestly! The songs and stories of Nancy White and Erskine Smith, starring White and Smith at the Victoria Playhouse, the performers showcase strong materiel in both forms, but never find a perfect thematic flow.
White is a well-known comedian and songwriter who sings about the quirkier side of life, including the bad driving habits of seniors, pretensions of artistic types, and a Nova Scotia squirrel stuffer. One of her songs about the ups and downs of being a Maritimer living in Toronto was particularly funny and timely in its references to a hated mayor and unfriendly residences. (Why did the Torontonian cross the street? To avoid meeting an acquaintance). Although she played acoustic guitar throughout, White was accompanied by Ghislain Aucoin on accordion, keyboard and backing vocals. An extremely talented musician, Aucoin added a fullness to White’s songs.
Although not all of White’s songs were about PEI, the Island ones worked best with Smith’s stories, in the atmosphere of pretty Victoria. The best maybe-only-Islanders-will-get-this song was about the understudy Gold Cup and Saucer girl, the one who’s the stand-in girl for the stand-in race horse. Smith’s stories were almost entirely Island-based, including the excitement and ordeal of crossing the ferry and a local guy who thought that an ice-cream cone was a “little dish.” Smith’s finest story was a personal one in which he talked about his elderly friend who he takes out for drives every Sunday. They always got fish n’ chips and it just became the norm. It wasn’t until they stopped in Kensington one day and had roast beef instead that his friend admitted “God, I hate fish n’ chips.”
The show’s set was especially impressive and not necessarily expected for such a simple premise. It was like set designer Scott MacConnell took the main staples of idyllic Victoria, including the theatre, lighthouse and welcome sign, and shrunk them into a cartoonish and colourful set. Strung on wooden banner between two light posts was “HONESTLY!,” an expression uttered throughout the show.
While it sometimes felt that Smith’s stories and White’s songs were connected by a thinly-stretched segue, the show was an enjoyable look into the funny observations of both performers, something that can be enjoyed by locals and bridge-hoppers.