The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: A Theatrical Dream

Photos by Victoria Wells

With Canada’s  150th birthday fast approaching, it seems like a fitting time to brush up on some Canadian history in a highly creative and entertaining fashion.  While Joey Smallwood is not an uncommon name and certainly the fact that Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949 is another known fact, the road to get there was plagued with struggle, debate, dedication and in part resignation.

In The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, a play based on the best-selling book by Wayne Johnston currently at the NAC, that story is told, with spellbinding creative tales interwoven in historical facts. Told through the eyes of Joey Smallwood, we get a glimpse of the man, as he grappled with personal determination all the while retaining and trying to advance his left-leaning political beliefs.  With the backdrop of politics and history, we witness Smallwood’s career development as he moves from a man of humble beginnings with great dreams to journalist, radio star to politician. We see how he navigated through political waters as a victim of political ambitions of others to being a champion of Newfoundlanders.  Love him or hate him, he was a political force whose influence and legacy are irrefutable. 

The story has historical figures and created characters, such as the absolutely riveting, funny, witty, but bitter journalist Sheilagh Fielding.  Publicly, in her column, she has a hate-on for Smallwood and yet, behind the scenes, we see theirs is a complicated relationship.

The play is, in short, phenomenal and the story captivating from beginning to the very end.  There is not one dull minute. It is long though, so book off your night. However, you won’t need to head out for drinks after because now you can bring beverages into the theatre, which is a long time coming and a welcomed development.

The costumes are great and set creatively changed.  However, it is the acting that makes this play outstanding. Ever actor is beyond marvellous. Colin Furlong’s Joey Smallwood elicits a range of emotions from esteem, to strange, complex and inexplicable feelings of annoyance that in the end are overcome with feelings of admiration and respect.

Again, while every actor is fantastic, Carmen Grant steals the show as Sheilagh Fielding. Every scene she is in, she energizes the stage with her character’s biting humour and human fallibility as a woman struggling with alcoholism. 

Jillian Keiley, English Theatre Artistic Director at the NAC and Director of the play, has done it again. This is a theatrical gem that should not be missed. The play runs until February 11th

While in the end it is not historically accurate as say an encyclopedia, the play is a great way to get you thinking about Canadian history and some of the players who have had a hand in creating our country.