Jan 19

Lunchbox Theatre’s ‘Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story’ is a tale worth telling

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

Most people have not heard of Maurice Ruddick, or how it was his positive outlook and love of singing that saved him and five other men from dying in a collapsed mine in Springhill, Nova Scotia. Beau Dixon has brought Ruddick’s story to life in a co-presentation by One Yellow Rabbit and Lunchbox Theatre as part of the High Performance Rodeo. Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story is a breath of fresh air in the High Performance Rodeo Theatre Festival. It is a narrative based on a true story and real people, created by Dixon and told in a compelling way.

This solo production tells the tale of the Springhill mining disaster that occurred on October 1958, and had the most severe underground earthquake in North America’s history. The disaster was also the first major event to be on live television broadcast on the CBC. All of this unfolds on stage as Dixon plays every character and sings all the songs. We meet Maurice Ruddick, an Afican-Canadian miner and father of 12 children. He goes off  to work, shoveling coal in the mine beneath Springhill. Dixon’s portrayal initially of Ruddick, as a happy go lucky father is a bit thin, but Ruddick’s characteristics of positivity and his good nature shine through. He goes down into the heart of the earth and we meet the men he works with: Old Percy, Doug, Vicky, to name a few. Ruddick remarks that down in the mine they are all the same, they are all the same colour.

Dixon seems to be more comfortable portraying the men in the mine and these characters are stronger for it. Then the bump (underground earthquake) happens and everything changes. There are several segments where the play cuts to the CBC coverage of the mining disaster, which serves both as a bit of a break from the despair of the men trapped below and an a commentary on today’s media. For the play to switch between the real disaster and the media covering the real disaster serves to illustrate how passive, television coverage for the viewer is, seeing this disaster but not really being able to connect with the human experience. The play features a soft commentary on how something this devastating is seen as news in today’s world.

Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story is strongest in its illustration of how deeply the men suffered in the dark, with no food or water for 8 days. Dixon shines in the sequences when Ruddick is at his lowest, faced with the prospect of death and trying to hold on to his will to live. The play features outstanding sound design in these sequences to give the feel that Dixon isn’t alone on stage and that men are dying and moaning in the dark.

This play is not flawless but features a narrative and a performer well worth seeing in the theatre festival. This is what theatre is about.

Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story is part of the High Performance Rodeo. More information is available online.

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