As far back as Aesop and Horace, people have been making comparisons between “city folk” and “country folk”. The 1960s TV show Green Acres, profiling the adventures of city slickers new to country life, was a massive hit. More recently, on an international scale, we have Peter Mayle and A Year in Provence. We’re fascinated with the differences in the ways of living. It’s a comfortable construct from which to poke fun at one another’s foibles and vagaries.
Since 1985 the Wingfield series, created by Dan Needles, with Rod Beattie as Walt Wingfield, a captain of industry who abandons it all to be a gentleman farmer, has played to happy audiences from coast to coast, created generations of fans, and spawned six sequels to the original play Letter From Wingfield Farm.
Every one has premiered at Victoria’s Belfry Theatre. During the run of the last episode, Wingfield Lost and Found, in 2009, Artistic Director Michael Shamata realized that many patrons had never seen the first few plays in the series, and set out to book Letter From Wingfield Farm, Wingfield’s Progress and Wingfield’s Folly for the summer of 2013.
The Wingfield series is hilariously funny, affable and extremely well honed – each episode complete unto itself. A family would be safe in taking teenagers, parents and great-grandparents, as witnessed by the reaction of the multi-aged audience present for the opening night of Letter From Wingfield Farm.
There were guffaws, titters, chuckles, hoots, whoops, gasps, and trills of laughter. During one particularly poignant moment, I noticed my seat mate wiping away tears. We got to chatting at the intermission and she told me she cries every time during this particular scene, and then went on to explain she’s been listening to the Wingfield audio tapes since she was 4 or 5, has seen every show (some multiple times) and had the pleasure of introducing her partner (a non-theatre goer) as well. How can you argue with this kind of devotion and fan-dom?
Watching Rod Beattie as he personifies Walt, Ed, Freddy, the Squire, Don, Jimmy and Willy and Dave is like watching a 10th degree black belt judoka. You simply know you are in the presence of quiet greatness and mastery. His actions are effortless, his gestural language rich in variations. He takes the art of the pause to the nth degree for great comedic effect. With a few simple costume changes – a jacket, a different cap or shirt – and a tic or two, the transitions from character to character are seamless.
If you’ve ever given anyone directions that include “turn right after the spot on the Sookahalla where the barn used to be” you’ll understand the gentle sense of humour that pervades Letter From Wingfield Farm. Above all, an audience feels a sense of kinship, and a realization that whether city folk or country folk, we aren’t so different after all.
The Original Wingfield Trilogy, by Dan Needles
Belfry Theatre, 1291 Gladstone Avenue
Letter From Wingfield Farm July 30 – August 4 and August 21, 23 & 24
Wingfield’s Progress August 6 – 11 and August 21 & 24
Wingfield’s Folly August 13 – 18 and August 20, 22 & 25
Tickets $25 – 40 by phone 250-385-6815, online, or in person
Starring Rod Beattie
Directed by Douglas Beattie
Original Music by Stephen Woodjetts
Stage Manager Ben Cheung
Apprentice Stage Manager Charlotte Macaulay
DVS and CDs of the Wingfield plays are available for purchase from the Belfry Box Office, online at WaltWingfield.com, or by calling 1-888-667-5567.
Disclaimer: I was offered complimentary tickets to attend the opening night of Letter From Wingfield Farm. I was not paid to write a review nor was I required to do so. As always, I retain editorial control over all the content published on this blog.