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Magnetic North: Up to Low is a joy to watch

By Alejandro Bustos on May 26, 2015

For the past several years, Janet Irwin has worked towards bringing an Ottawa literary classic to the stage. Fast forward to today, and the playwright’s vision is now a reality with her adaptation of Up to Low, which is playing at Arts Court until June 6 as part of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival.

Set in 1950 and based on the popular book of the same name by Ottawa author Brian Doyle, this great production tells the story of how Young Tommy (played very well by Lewis Wynne-Jones) takes a life-changing trip from Ottawa to his grandparents’ cottage in Low, Quebec.

Along with his father (Chris Ralph) and his dad’s friend Frank (Attila Clemann), the teenage Tommy journeys through the Gatineau Hills in a brand new 1950s Buick Special.  In a road trip that seems to be interrupted constantly, the trio stop at a grocery store and different bars as Frank, who is driving, gets progressively drunker.

When they arrive in Low, Tommy meets up with Baby Bridget (played brilliantly by Megan Carty), a teenager who lost an arm in a tragic accident while a girl.  Together, they become involved in a moving adventure that brings them face-to-face with Mean Hughie (Paul Rainville), the notorious father of Bridget who is infamous for his vicious temper and who is dying of cancer.

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There are so many things to love about this play I am not sure where to start.  The stage design, for instance, is ingenious.  Instead of using the theatre’s regular space, the performance takes place in what is normally the lobby, which has been specially converted for this performance.

With a catwalk-like platform as a stage, with tables and chairs on either side for the public, audience members are immersed in the story, as the actors play out their roles mere metres away. The versatile stage is also impressive: one moment we’re on a dirt road driving; another in a field near Baby Bridget’s home; another on a rowboat.

The musicians that accompany the cast are also excellent. (Renowned folk singer Ian Tamblyn is among the talented players).  While listening to the music with a beer in hand – yes, you can bring drinks into the show – I sometimes felt that I was in a bar watching a live concert.

Then there is the delightful acting.  The cast, from top to bottom, does a stellar job in this play. There is no point marking this show on a bell curve as everyone deserves an A grade for their individual performances.

It is clear that the frequent fundraisers and hard work have paid off as this production is splendid. Irwin should be commended for her fantastic efforts, (she spent two years writing the script, never mind her time organising the production), as should Amanda Lewis of the Ottawa’s Children’s Theatre whose help proved indispensable.

This show is a true artistic gem from the heart of Ottawa.  If you want to see a show but are not sure what to see, and you would like to take your relatives, friends and/or any young person you know who is 10 years of age or older, then take them to see this performance.

Up to Low runs at Arts Court until June 6, 2015.  Tickets range from $22.50 to $35.