Who: Theatre Aquarius
Length: 2 hours 20 minutes with intermission
Where: Theatre Aquarius Mainspace (190 King William Street)
When: April 19 – May 6, 2023
Tickets: $40 and up
To Buy Tickets: https://tickets.theatreaquarius.org/
There’s nothing not to like: with Scottish slang, folk music and a lot of heart, Theatre Aquarius’ Maggie is based on the true story of a woman who finds herself in challenging circumstances, and raising three boys to the best of her ability, with the assistance of her friends.
The setting is Lanarkshire, a lowlands county in central Scotland. Many of the townsmen work in a nearby coalmine, while women launder clothes, clean buildings or teach. For titular character Maggie, it’s the only home she’s ever known, and she’s determined to help her boys accomplish their dreams.
This support, assistance and love of a mother is the primary driver and focus of the story. Otherwise, there isn’t a major catalyst in the plot. But the script is loaded with humour, although it doesn’t shy away from more difficult topics like conflict between Protestants and Catholics or abuse. Contrasting the challenge of events that Maggie frequently finds herself facing is the kindness of her friends in the village. This is what makes Maggie find relevance in another country and at another time from which it was set: even when trouble abounds, humans are still capable of goodness and compassion.
The cast consists of eighteen members who fulfill the role of townspeople (sometimes with multiple roles), Maggie and her three sons. While the musical doesn’t start with the big opening number that many have come to expect, what the show does offer in its opening provides tremendous exposition that gives insight into Maggie’s character throughout the production.
That big opening number isn’t far behind, as the powerful and talented ensemble jumps into “Friday Night in Lanark.” The lyrics begin to paint a picture of the town as the cast- in particular the women- sing their interactions with each other and reflect on their lives: “Twas the same for all our moms, and those before them too. it’s Friday night in Lanark, girls, that’s what we women do.”
The originator of Maggie in workshops, Dharma Bizier, also plays the character in Theatre Aquarius’ production. The only Maggie this show has ever known, Bizier commands the warmth, love and spirit of Maggie within seconds of walking on stage. She’s instantly likeable and extraordinarily talented in this role, where she is onstage almost from the show’s start to finish and with several major musical numbers. Most particularly stirring is “Used to Be Fire;” a retrospective ballad in which Maggie reflects on how her boys have grown and changed, and how she has changed with them.
The music by Johnny Reid and Matt Murray (who also created the show’s book and lyrics) and Bob Foster, moves from rousing Scottish tunes belted out with gusto, to soulful expressions of anguish. The band consists of seven members under the baton and keys of Bob Foster, including one member who plays the bagpipes.
Ken MacDonald’s set, a building-lined street, is fairly simple. The performers reconfigure a number of props as needed: carts are used for transporting items, but also doing laundry. A clothesline is used to hang laundry, but also hang home-made signs to mark occasions.
As theatres are looking to re-welcome audiences, there is a welcoming of the soul at the heart of Maggie in the kindness, compassion and spirit that Maggie and her townsfolk show in raising her boys that will resonate. It’s the same emotions we all want extended to us. Ultimately, it’s this message, and the joy in which it is conveyed which will make Maggie a success here and anywhere else it’s performed. At the show’s close on opening night, audiences couldn’t wait to leap to their feet- a response this show will likely see night after night.