As part(s) of my Coming Alive In 2005 personal pledge I embarked on my first-ever bicycle trip that summer, taking myself from one end of Newfoundland to another (and another) upon a cheap, heavy mountain bike packed high with woefully inadequate gear. It was my first time visiting Newfoundland and I absolutely fell in love with the place.
On that trip I had with me a copy of Wayne Johnston’s book The Colony Of Unrequited Dreams, a going-away gift from m’lady. It’s a brilliantly written historical fiction centring on the life of Newfoundland’s first premier Joey Smallwood and his nemesis/muse Sheilagh Fielding. Aside from Smallwood’s utterly amazing feats of endurance and bravery and the painful love/hate relationship between him and the stinging Fielding, the book provides an insightful glimpse into the history of The Rock and I couldn’t have asked for a better tome to keep me company on my solo journey across Canada’s youngest province.
So when a play based on the book came to the NAC theatre I was all over it like vomit on George Street. On February 5th, 2017 I parked my mainlander butt in one of the theatre’s cushy seats and spent a hundred minutes watching the book unfold before my eyes.
Of course it had been a dozen years since I had read it, but as far as I can recall the play was pretty faithful to the book. The stage props were sparse (which is how I generally like it), the cast was small and convincing, and the story rolled along about as buoyantly as a political love story could. I’d like to say that the production made me fall in love with Newfoundland all over again but that would be a lie – I’ve never fallen out of love with the place – but for a Newfoundland-lover like me it was an extremely pleasant and civilized way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
However I must say that the book was significantly more entertaining than the play, but isn’t it always that way? A good writer can spur on the reader’s imagination – a two-brained combination/connection that can really ramp things up – but at a play your imagination just sits in the backseat while the director’s creativity does all the heavy lifting. It can still be a fun ride, but it ain’t no mind-meld.