Here on the Island
Review by Patrick Ledwell
I was almost late for the performance of "Here on the Island" at the Jubilee Theatre in Summerside. Rather than taking the shorter, inland Route 2 on the drive out (as good reason and time permitting would dictate), I found myself putting on a turn signal for the meandering road that outlines the South Shore's red-cliffed coves.
The decision turned out to be a fitting one. "Here on the Island" is an enchanting weave of stories, songs, and memories that expresses the Island's unique character by going 'out chasing the shore,' to borrow a phrase from the show. Like a shoreline, which is a threshold between land and sea, the show searches out Island-ness not as a single thing, but in the places where themes from our traditions, work, and beliefs converge and overlap.
David Weale, Alan Rankin, Perry Williams, and Brad Fremlin are the right ensemble for this cartography of the Island's heart, as each of these talented performers can introduce narrative strands that the others then transform and carry forward. Weale's story-telling and Rankin's songs seamlessly finish thoughts for one another, and both are at the height of their craft here. When Weale conjures images of ferry-bound habits of mind, so hard to break that we still speed toward the bridge, you can see the audience collectively laugh and nod in assent, like a shared act of faith. And then Rankin sings the soaring "Northumberland Pride," a hymn to the ferry service and our mingled sadness and doubt about joining places with deep straits between.
The consummate artistry of Perry Williams and Brad Fremlin undergirds the show throughout. In addition to his skill with every stringed instrument, Williams has fashioned old Island photographs into an evocative slide show that frames the performance, like a projected memory. The audience sees richly-detailed pictures such as crowds standing at the rail of the ferry, squinting in the sun; we feel such a connection across historical distance that we can hardly help but squint back. Fremlin subtly adds texture to songs with an old pump organ and accordian, and has composed soundscapes so real they practically leave you with the smell of saltwater and timothy.
Even if you've heard an anecdote or a song before, the delicate orchestration of theme in "Here on the Island" offers an opportunity to see the material in a new light, like squares on a quilt positioned so that their patterns align. The substantial new chapters developed for this second run of "Here on the Island" are testament to the alchemy between the performers, as these movements are the show's strongest. A rhapsody on Island horses layers a film projection of their graceful running with Weale's stories about trusted workmates. A creative imagining of the Yankee Gale of 1851, which swells to a crescendo with Rankin's song "Gloucesterman," lets us follow the mournful search of a heart-broken sea captain, who travels to the Island in search of the four sons he lost.
The refrain that echoes strongest throughout is that Islanders and visitors alike need to "Take a little time/ Take the shore road." The show succeeds in getting the audience unstuck from the hectic present and casts us into a reflection on a gentler age, where even clocks stopped out of respect when someone died and the ferry trip was longer than the mainland stay. Inviting us 'in close' to see this place, "Here on the Island" offers a gift of time, an evening where we can celebrate and remember the stories that knit us together in a cultural fabric. And like a winding seaside path, the show rewards us for our looking.