I was late to this party. I went in very prepared. I read those reviews. And, no, The Wild Rovers (a sophomore effort from Terra Bruce Productions) is not good theatre. I didn’t hate it, though. I actually rather enjoyed myself, once I had surrendered to its haphazard, half-baked… let’s call them shenanigans.
It is especially difficult to follow the story. Our Narrator (Sean Panting)—who goes by the name Maggie, though he makes it clear that isn’t his real name (ok, sure)—tries to guide us through, but he’s more about painful dad jokes than narrative clarity.
From what I could make out, we have an Irish band—the titular Wild Rovers—playing a gig in Newfoundland when they get sucked into a portal that sends them to a fantasy land. This place is called Athunia. And they’re on the cusp of war with the neighbouring Ethunia, which, yes, is pronounced exactly the same. As you can imagine, that’s a whole thing.
Our intrepid bandmates—Josephine (Julia Dunne), Jordy (Philip Goodridge), Billy (Steve Maloney) and their van driver Shiela (Vicki Harnett)—meet the jovial Princess Hiya (Melanie O’Brien) who drags them on a quest to find a magical McGuffin egg that had a mystical sounding name and maybe a purpose, but my brain has let those details slip. Doesn’t matter anyway.
Along for this journey is a dumb yet pretty warrior/soldier/guard guy named Roguish Nick Castley (Liam Lynch), who is, yes, a play on Rick Astley and that does, uh, pay-off. (Yay for us!) Representing the Ethunians, we have Prince Farid (Powell Nobert), engaged to be married to Princess Hiya to bring about peace between their two lands. But it’s all a ruse by his mother, Queen Keerthi (Nicole Underhay) who has nefarious pantomime villain plans.
Steve Cochrane’s book is a mash of generic, cartoonish riffs on gothic fantasy tropes. There’s a quest and mystical items and a beast and a dragon and pirates and all manner of whimsical woo-woo held together with a cheeky self-awareness. The performers are having a good enough time stumbling through it. If you abandon any hope for plot, competent mise en scène, internal consistency or thematic heft; you might find yourself on-board. I was bewildered, rolling my eyes and cringing, sure; but after the first hour, it’s like my critical faculties had been numbed into submission.
This is all vibes, folks. Featuring iconic, beloved songs from The Irish Rovers, it has a grounded and stirring musicality. The underdeveloped story and its hokey lore has promise, might even have sort of worked in a messy and meandering way had there been some consistent and compelling theatricality in Jason Byrne’s direction.
The actors just kind of hang out at the sides of the stage whenever not actively participating. And during actual scenes, there is a muddled quality to the staging that makes it hard to feel the reality of any given moment. The communal atmosphere intentional and they’re going for a sense of dress-up and horseplay, but it isn’t well executed enough to transcend the crude and crafty aesthetic.
You can have cardboard cut-out props and hackneyed costumes, but you need tight and stylish maneuvering to sell that sort of playful artifice. This is all too vague, unfocused and sprawling to properly capture the imagination. The talent and charms of all concerned are squandered here.
That said, I did have a good time. The songs are great. And all of the performers have their moments. Highlights for me included some rather beautiful group puppetry during “The Unicorn” number and a truly hilarious, rambling bit of internal monologue nonsense by Lynch’s Roguish.