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Northern Lights, based on 2004 brewery grow-op story, takes audience on wild ride

Theatre By The Bay did what they always do and told you a bit of Barrie’s history with 'Northern Lights', only this time it was a fast-paced and wild ride

Theatre By The Bay (TBTB) did what they always do and told you a bit of Barrie’s history with Northern Lights, only this time it was a fast-paced and wild ride.

The play is a farce based on the true story of Canada’s biggest marijuana grow-op bust in 2004 at the old Barrie Molson brewery. The story made national headlines and, depending on who you were, it either brought you shame or made you laugh.

TBTB takes the 14-year-old incident and gives it a twist with tons of humour and chaos.

The unique thing about Northern Lights (also the name of the strain of marijuana grown at the facility) is how different it is from past productions that the local theatre company has done.

Rave reviews about the story telling of historical plays done in the past have been the cornerstone of TBTB and for the company to go out on such a limb and take a chance when they didn’t have to is admirable and will have you laughing like you’re on something.

TBTB artistic director Alex Dault knew he wanted something completely different when telling this story and decided to throw everything into the pot, so to speak.

“We knew this was a chance to really just remind people of one of the city’s most infamous stories and in doing so have a little bit of fun mixing fact with fiction,” said Dault. “There are spots in the play that get kind of out there, but it is a story about marijuana so if we were ever going to get crazy, this is the play.”

While there are parts of the play that will remind you of the reality of the drug bust, there are others that will take you out of that reality in a heartbeat. Between the talking owl, sitcom laugh track and cravings for the munchies, Northern Lights is a fast-paced and non-stop comedy of errors with exactly the right cast for the job.

While everyone fits perfectly in their roles there are a few stand-outs who can’t help but keep you in hysterics.

Tim Walker as DEA Agent Bill Jerblonsky is absolutely perfect and is a joy to see on stage. The bumbling American government agent simply could not have been played better by anyone else and it is no wonder that Walker is becoming a familiar face with TBTB.

John Fray’s energy is unmatched and it’s a wonder he didn’t need to sleep immediately after every show. Fray plays Long Legs, the man in charge of grow-op logistics and grabs the audience in every one of his scenes, puts them on his back and screams let’s get nuts!

Like the doting mother Margaret she portrays, Barbara Clifford is the calm the audience needs from time to time and reminds you that Barrie will always have that down-home family backbone to it. The fact that Clifford turns the volume up on her character when needed at the drop of a dime is fantastic, all the while still having you want to have her drive you to Sunday morning choir practice. If your attention is not on Clifford when she is on stage, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

The rest of the cast is equally perfect in the roles they play as everyone is able to move fast and be quick-witted throughout the show even slipping some of the many sexual and drug double entendres by you at first.

Most importantly with Northern Lights is how TBTB makes you want to dive into the history of the city and find out more about the space we live in. The obvious attraction here is the massive drug bust and the story that was taken in part from the book Hidden Harvest by Mark Coakley, but an even more scandalous story is intertwined in Northern Lights.

Around the same time that drug bust was happening in 2004, there was a news event about supposed fake statues and the MacLaren Art Centre. That could have been a play on its own and is worth any local history buff looking into.

If you’ve enjoyed the past war stories and founding-of-the-region plays that TBTB has done, because you enjoy sitting back and having history told to you in a wonderfully dramatic way, you’ll need to strap in for this one.

Northern Lights is as fast-paced a play that can be done with awesome props, music and historical local references sprinkled throughout. Anyone who may have been saying that the folks at TBTB needed to try something different from past performances will get just that, showing that the theatre company is not afraid to think outside the box when telling Barrie’s history.

With only five nights of performances left, there are only approximately 45 tickets in total left. To get tickets or more information go here.


Shawn Gibson

About the Author: Shawn Gibson

Shawn Gibson is a staff writer based on Barrie
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