This London Life is a brand new production commissioned by artistic director Dennis Garnhum. According to the program, it is the first of five commissions under a program called “COMPASS” that will guide playwrights to tell stories for the Grand Theatre stage. The play is both written and directed by Morris Panych, who has previously appeared on the Grand Theatre stage himself. Needless to say, this show is a great representation of the 2019/20 tagline: “World Curious. London Proud.”
The comedic show follows the story of a foster child named Walter (played by Ryan Shaw) and his neighbour, “Nan” (Wendy Thatcher), who have just brought home a first year university student named Emery Thompson. Nan has agreed to take care of Emery (Braeden Soltys) as a favour to a friend, but cannot anticipate the antics that will ensue as a result. Nan and Walter soon discover that the man (Allister MacDonald) that they had whisked away from the airport was not the university student that they were expecting; they have brought a suspicious man from England into their home.
The plot of the show is very lighthearted and fun, and it is sure to illicit laughs. As an individual who spends a lot of their time in London, I was thrilled to see this production. The show did not disappoint with jokes about various London locations. I do admit some jokes seemed rather specific, so it is possible that a person who is not as familiar with the area would feel left out by quite a few jokes in the production. For example, I was left out of the humour when bus routes were referenced. The show is most accessible by individuals that have known London for the majority of their life. Panych, however, includes a selection of jokes that even those who know nothing about London would enjoy.
I was very impressed by the performance of Ryan Shaw as his energy lit up the stage, an incredible feat for such a young actor. Shaw begins the show with a lengthy monologue that helps the reader understand the background of his character. The actor was charming and seamlessly filled the role of intelligent, curious, and overly inquisitive little boy. Many of the characters could easily remind audience members of friends, relatives, or people they’ve encountered in real life. Emery was an example that stood out for me as well. Emery is an arts and humanities student and Western, possessing the all-too-familiar panic of a young person going into their first year. He is unsure of himself and is constantly tired. The familiarity of these characters and the comedic timing of the actors make for a performance that can warm the hearts of Londoners.
The set, illuminated by bold colours, was one of the most positive aspects of the performance. The set designer developed a house that looks like a more cartoonish version of a house you would find in an older area of London. The angles of the house make it look as if it could go beyond the stage; as if it is a natural part of our city and we are not at the Grand Theatre, but instead sitting in a suburban London neighbourhood. The power lines were a lovely touch that enhanced the aforementioned effect. Last, the bold blue tones that were used to backlight the house and soft yellows that illuminated the house’s windows at intermission was picturesque, and audience members were eager to take pictures.
I would recommend this show to anyone looking for a lighthearted piece of comedy. The plot requires audience members to embrace the comedic nature of the show and go along with the rather silly situations that unfold. It is also recommended for people who are familiar with the London area as it makes a lot of the jokes easier to understand. Altogether, This London Life is definitely a show where audience reception plays a large role in the total enjoyment of the show; the more laughs, the more fun the viewing experience. That being said, the production still has many other interesting aspects, including beautiful lighting, an incredible set, and an endearing tale, for those who are not from London, but want to see the show.