Theatre Aquarius’ world premiere of Maggie has brought Scotland to Hamilton, and for some this exciting new musical is more than a theatrical escape across the pond; it’s a journey home.
Set during the turbulent decades of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s in the mining town of Lanarkshire, Scotland, Maggie is a heartfelt musical based on the life of co-writer Johnny Reid’s grandmother. But this personal tale is an unexpectedly familiar one to Hamilton audiences.
“People stop me and tell me their immigration story,” says show director and Theatre Aquarius Artistic Director Mary Francis Moore. “They tell me about their grandmother leaving Portugal or their grandfather leaving Italy or leaving Romania. People feel provoked to share their story and that’s what’s beautiful, and I couldn’t have anticipated that.”
Maggie’s world is one of transience, with those around her leaving home in search of opportunity—as many as three-thousand people a week, according to the song ‘Everyone’s Gone’. In a town as richly diverse as Hamilton, it’s a story many know well. But among audiences were those who not only understood Maggie’s story, they’d lived it.
“I can’t tell you the number of people who’ve seen the show who’ve said, ‘that’s my life up there,’” says Moore. “One lady—she’s 94—she came to our first preview, and she said, ‘see that window up there?’ and she pointed to the stage right side of the building, and she said ‘that’s where I lived. Every time the lights came on, I just wondered what we were doing in there. My family has been dead for years. Thank you for giving them back to me.’”
Moore has been working on Maggie for seven years now, since its early days being workshopped at Sheridan College; and she’s not alone. Actor William Lincoln, who plays Maggie’s sporty son Tommy, has also been along through the show’s evolution.
“It’s had such an incredible journey,” says Lincoln. “And seeing these characters get even more fleshed out and become even more real, that’s been a really neat part to experience. And only a few of us in the cast can say that we’ve seen that, which is really cool.”
One way the cast has brought the characters, and Scotland, to life is through their use of the very distinct Scottish accent. Under Moore’s guidance, Maggie’s actors devoted themselves to learning the brogue.
“I’m Scottish and my parents are from about 15 minutes away from where the play takes place, and Johnny (Reid) was also going to be in rehearsal, and a couple people from the cast are actually Scottish,” says Moore. “On the first day we talked about the idea that we would just like to sort of drown ourselves in this accent instead of going away and doing it phonetically and studying it, because it’s not just the accent of these people, it’s the physicality. We talked about how these people, they’re so salt of the earth…everything is like a rootedness to the ground, every gesture means something.”
For Lincoln, it was also putting context to the time and place of Maggie that helped bring his character to life—an exercise Moore brought to the whole cast.
“We did a lot of work sitting down and talking about the politics and the economy and sectarianism and all these things that are happening in that time and place, and that detail is so important because then when you’re getting into the character you ask yourself, ‘who am I in that time and place? What do I think about these things? What do other people think about my character in this time and place?’ and those details are so crucial. I’m so glad we did all that work.”
But at the end of the day, the when and the where fade away as Maggie brings something timeless and universal to Aquarius’ main stage.
“There is something so human about this story,” says Lincoln. “Everybody can relate to a character who is just trying to keep a roof above their heads or people coming and going from your life. Those are stories that transcend time.”
There’s still just enough time to journey to Scotland with Maggie, running until May 7th thanks to an additional Sunday matinee performance.