The Other Guys Theatre Company’s historical multi-media musical review Good Timber may not have the traditional character development and story line most audiences expect from theatre, but what it does have is endless passion and enthusiasm from its cast of six, who bring the stories and the struggles of B.C.’s loggers to life through the words of “The Bard of the Woods,” Robert E. Swanson.
Good Timber, Songs and Stories of the Western Logger is a series of 22 songs, 14 of which were adapted from Swanson’s poems, alongside other traditional tunes and some originals written by the incredibly musical cast. The music is a unique blend of East meets West Coast, ranging from folk to country and celtic to jazz.
The songs are performed, both dramatically and musically, by a gifted cast of earnest entertainers. Although they’re not portraying specific characters, it is easy for the audience to imagine exactly which persona they’d have in the woods or at the camp.
Right from the beginning of the show, it is apparent how well-suited Swanson’s words are to song. The opening tune, “The Legend of the Spruce,” sets the tone with haunting female vocals and images of the majestic Sitka spruce and hemlock.
The cast members enter the stage, one by one, adding more layers to the sound with each voice and each instrument. Each member adds their own flare and personality to the ensemble, which at times seems more like a band than a theatre cast.
Kelt Eccleston’s smooth voice and honest performance is highlighted in a selection of numbers, including the title track and my personal favourite, “Cat Skinner’s Prayer.”
Colleen Eccleston’s distinct voice added a strong female presence and intricate harmonies. Director Ross Desprez’ animated performance was well- suited to the jovial and often silly “The Apes of B.C” and “Climax Courageous.”
Sarah Donald’s soothing vocals and strength on the fiddle helped give the performance that nurturing female touch.
Marc Hellman and John Gogo were musical standouts on guitar, while portraying the strength and wisdom of loggers with honesty and integrity they deserve.
The multi-media screen which makes up the backdrop for the simple set comes to life, showcasing both still images and video clips from the B.C. Archives. The effect gives the audience a glimpse into what life was like for loggers, what our province used to look like and what technology has done for the industry.
Director Desprez says often audience members recognize relatives in the visuals.
The multi-media aspect of the show is a stark modern contrast to the folk music, the poetry and the costumes, but nurtures the audiences’ grasp of the topic by showing pictures of what they’re singing about. Without them, the show would be tough to follow, as viewers often find themselves choosing between getting lost in the music or paying attention to the lyrics, which can be confusing to those who don’t have any knowledge of the industry jargon. The small Logger’s Dictionary in the program is a nice thought, but still leaves some of the lingo in question.
While this play doesn’t fall exactly into the typical definition of theatre, Good Timber is a good time and those interested in seeing it shouldn’t wait, as last year’s run at the museum was a sellout and I imagine this year’s run will be the same. Check it out before it’s gone on Aug. 27.M
Good Timber Songs and Stories of the Western Logger is playing at the Royal B.C. Museum Monday through Saturday at 8pm, until Aug. 27
Tickets are $17 – $22 at the museum box office or by phone