‘A Man of the North’ evolves at MRU
Over the past few months, Mount Royal’s theatre department has been working with playwright Neil Fleming in bringing his creation Man of the North to life.
The script was originally a Theatre Calgary piece, first written in 2008, and Fleming spent the last few months with both first- and second-year MRU students on working over and over before becoming a show-ready draft.
With Glenda Stirling joining up as director, the workshop process resulted in a limited number of shows that ran from Feb. 8-11, and the show enjoyed a successful run to the audiences that came to see the show. Unlike most shows, Man of the North was unique in that cuts and changes to the script were happening after each and every show. With barely any costumes or set, the show carried on the strength of Fleming’s work.
Focusing on trade in 1781, the show focuses on an aspect Canadian history that isn’t necessarily taught in schools.
The show revolves around the adventures of Henry Fleck, a Scottish trader that played by Steven Evanik. It’s split between Fleck revealing the action in a series of monologues later revealed to be letters and the live action of his adventure.
The show’s first half describes his journey westward, as a young clerk assigned to leave the comforts of Montreal and accompany his company’s partners on their journey to Grand Portage. What was supposed to be a long and hard journey of six months is made easier by the companionship of a daughter of one of the partners, Ms. Catherine Todd played by Emily Dallas. The chemistry between the two comes across naturally, highlighted by Evanik’s earnest efforts to woo the lady.
Unfortunately, Todd is already engaged to another partner, the headstrong Hamish MacAskill, who is played by Byron Allen. The arrogant nature of MacAskill juxtaposes seamlessly with that of Fleck, which only goes to further highlight the well-intentioned character that he is.
However, in an attempt to convince Todd to leave MacAskill so he can spend the return trip to Montreal making her his own, his plan backfires. This leads to the second half of the show, in which Fleck is assigned to trade at the Todd house in the north with the Ojibwa people. Undergoing a great transformation, Fleck is befriended by brother and sister Wanimakwa (Riley Galarneau) and Kimodayan (Robyn Ord) among many other friends and foes who keep popping in and out of sight. Throughout the progressing story, it is Ord who makes the most of her opportunities, both with her character and her performance.
For those who didn’t make it out to see the show, they can take comfort in knowing that it may not be very long before Man of the North is on a stage again. With Fleming and Theatre Calgary dramaturge Shari Wattling working hard on this project, seeing it performed off the page was a very re-assuring sign that this play works as a staged work. It seems that a bit more tweaking may be in order, but thanks to the work done in collaboration with Mount Royal, this new Canadian play may be making its official premiere in the near future.