Come All Ye
Review by Katie Rankin
It’s a difficult task for Islanders and visitors alike to succinctly capture the wonderful, addicting, often ridiculous nature of this island. Sure we can all agree PEI is special. But what is it about this place that makes it so different from any other? Come-All-Ye at The Mack tries to answer this question with a group of talented musicians singing some of the best Island-centered songs, paired with Patrick Ledwell’s hilarious and frighteningly accurate observations about our home. Although using storytelling and song to paint a picture of the Island is certainly not a new idea, Ledwell’s stand-up sensibilities and younger outlook make it feel totally fresh.
The show opens with a blend of Island voices, ones we might not have heard before but that feel very familiar. The audio is from interviews conducted by Dutch Thompson over the years and they, along with archival video and photos of the Island, set the tone for the rest of Come-All-Ye. This is a show that loves poking fun at the absurdities of the Island but does so in a loving way.
Early in the evening, Ledwell tells us that the easiest way to be claimed an Islander, even if you weren’t born here, is to become famous. This hilarious truth is even found in the show’s song selection with performances of Gene MacLellan and Stompin’ Tom Connors songs. The entire musical ensemble, including Caroline Bernard, Ashley Condon, John Connolly, Chas Guay and Mark Haines perform with confidence, joy and energy.
My only issue with the musical direction of the show was how the singing on a well-known song like Lennie Gallant’s “Peter’s Dream” was divided. The musicians traded off the singing line-by-line so that there was a new voice on each line. These songs are so rich and well-known that this arrangement was quite jarring and gave it a cheesy, musical theatre feel.
Despite the big laughs, there are many touching moments found in Come All Ye, touching because they are rooted in real, personal experiences. “Betty’s Song” written and performed by Ashley Condon is about her mother, the first fisherwoman in Murray Harbour North to be the captain of her own fishing boat. The song is a sweet tribute to her hardworking single mother and Condon delivers it with pride and love. Ledwell is consistently funny, but his reading of his father Frank’s poem “John of the Island” is another serious and touching moment.
The entire show does an excellent job of balancing the serious with the comedic while seamlessly connecting themes between stories and songs. For example, when Ledwell starts talking about the Confederation Bridge he subtly shifts the stories from hilariously mocking to a sadder nostalgia for the ferry. This leads perfectly into Mark Haines and John Connolly doing a lovely version of Allan Rankin’s “Northumberland Pride.”
Come All Ye is a celebration of all things Island. It is a love letter to this weird, insular, intoxicating place where we live. Maybe we won’t ever be able to answer what makes this place so special, it’s just that complicated an answer. But Come-All-Ye sure gives you long list with which you can start. Come-All-Ye is playing at The Mack until September.