Bluenose, the children’s play running this weekend at the Cape Breton University Boardmore Playhouse, is a high energy, slapstick crazy, gloriously groan-worthy joke filled lark with some important life messages on tolerance and why one should not roam the seas plundering and pillaging added painlessly to the fun.
I saw the Friday morning performance with a big audience of local school kids who loved every second of the play and took every chance they could to be a part of the fun.
Captain Ratt (Amber Cragg) bullies her hapless crew of two, Spatt (Paul Bishop) and Knat (Eric Letcher) in a relentless quest for booty on the not-so-good ship, Shark de Triomphe. So what if they terrorize peaceful folk and lay a path of devastation in their wake? Still, Spatt dreams of wider horizons and Knat’s favourite booty is the pile of books through which he searches alternate career opportunities.
Then they accidentally bring on board Ku (Rachel Murphy), a diminutive islander who the pirates regard with distaste and not for her refusal to be afraid of them, nor for more refined “aarghh” free speech patterns, nor for her constant critique of the ethics-free pirate lifestyle: no, she earns their contempt for her blue clown nose instead of a proper red clown nose like the ones they proudly possess.
The play, written by Emil Sher and directed with great physicality by Scott Sharplin, is perfect for younger folk with plenty of humour to keep the older members of their entourages engaged. Sharplin works his cast hard with kinetic high jinks and grand oversized performances.
The three pirates are a great comedic team: they flawlessly perform the physical comedy that would easily find a welcome spot in the center ring of the circus. Cragg let her young audience see the insecurities (like not wanting anyone to know she can’t read) that made her character a bully and at the same time nicely undercut Ratt’s menace. Paul Bishop was the comic highlight of the production: his wonderfully dim Spatt had a childlike innocence behind his bravado and his amazement and delight when his spoon-hand grew back into a real one was a great piece of mime. Eric Letcher, wearing fake outsized chimp ears, made his Knatt endearing with a quiet yearning for decency; like his shipmates, he was an expert at the physical stuff (watching him teeter on deck with a stack of books had a Chaplinesque grace to it).
Rachel Murphy, as Ku, had the hard part of being the straight person, and most petit actor, amid a crew of nautical maniacs, but she made her character a tiny fearless force for good. She had her best moment when she revealed her character had her own issues with some people being different from her. She had some difficulty sometimes being heard over the boisterous buccaneering but her performance was as spot on as her castmates.
And a hearty “ahoy, mateys” goes out to the tireless Diana MacKinnon-Furlong for her excellent costume design, the ingenious Bruce Cathcart for building the stageworthy set he designed, and the inventive Baillie Ferguson for her delightful clown makeup.
The final performance of Bluenose is Sunday, May 3, at 2 pm.