Review: Spinning Yarns

Tales and Tunes from a homesick Newfoundlander by Stephen Guy-McGrath

Review | by Doug Gallant

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Spinning Yarns is a ripping good time. But don’t just take my word for it, see for yourself. Seriously.

Stephen Guy-McGrath’s one-man show about growing up in Newfoundland in the 1980s is hysterically funny, the kind of fare tailor made for a summer theatre audience looking to lean back in their chairs, sip on something cool and be truly entertained by someone who appears to be having as much fun on stage as they are in their seats.

And that’s the impression you get watching Guy-McGrath, that he’s having the time of his life as he regales you with stories about what he and his brothers got away with growing up, what they did not get away with and how their mother dealt with all of the above after she and her husband divorced.

He has described the show as a love letter to his family and the world he grew up in and after opening night at The Mack last Saturday I’m inclined to agree. In fact, there were moments that rang so familiar I felt he could have been talking about my family. Life in Newfoundland in the 80s and life in P.E.I. at that time I suspect was not all that different. Must be an Island thing.

I really don’t want to give too much away but in Spinning Yarns you can expect to hear stories about household appliances as a source of both pleasure and pain, unusual winter piñatas, Christmas gift exchanges gone awry, when not to speak ill of other people’s children and the like.

Guy-McGrath has some great stories to tell, knock down drag out funny stories, but the success of his show, which was directed by festival artistic director Adam Brazier, has as much to do with the way he tells his stories as it does with the stories themselves.

Newfoundland, or to be proper Newfoundland and Labrador, has a long and glorious tradition of producing great storytellers, guys like Al Clouston, Hubert Furey and Dave Paddon, and Guy-McGrath is certainly keeping that tradition alive with Spinning Yarns.

But it’s not just his gift for comedy that sells this show. His highly animated stories are interspersed with some great Newfoundland songs, from Ron Hynes’ “St. John’s Waltz” and Jim Payne’s “Wave Over Wave” to Great Big Sea’s “Ordinary Day,” as well as traditional pieces like “Auntie Mary” and “Greenspond,” both of which have been recorded countless times. 

Guy-McGrath, who plays fiddle, mandolin and bodhran, and Island fiddler Cynthia MacLeod also serve up some dandy fiddle tunes. MacLeod is one of three musicians joining Guy-McGrath for the show. Sharing the stage as well are Cameron MacDuffee, on guitar and harmonica and Brendan Wall, who plays guitar, bass and accordion and serves as the show’s musical director. Both MacDuffee and Wall were featured in Kronborg, which closed the same day Spinning Yarns opened.

On stage they were like a family throwing a kitchen party that we were lucky enough to get invited to. And if you play your cards right you might get invited back.

Spinning Yarns will play in repertory at The Mack with Atlantic Blue until late September.

Doug Gallantreview