TIFT’s ‘Somersaults’ explores life

“There is a ton of exploration to be had, about life and what it throws you and how you carry that around with you. And it’s really interesting to explore that – it’s a very human situation.” – Lucy Peacock

By John Devine
City Scene Barrie

Life’s a mystery that opens doors once thought closed, taking the unexpected and inexperienced along paths unimagined and into adventures unanticipated.
The characters in Talk is Free Theatre’s (TIFT) production of ‘Do You Turn Somersaults?’ – now playing at the Mady Centre for the Performing Arts – stumble into this truism of life, discovering along the way that it really isn’t over until it’s over.
The play stars Lucy Peacock, who has performed in nearly 60 productions during her 24 years at the Stratford Shakespeare Fesitival, including 30 Shakespearean works. The play, on until this Saturday (Nov. 26), is directed by Marti Maraden, whose credits include artistic director at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and also stars Geordie Johnson.
City Scene Barrie recently sat down with Lucy Peacock for a wide-ranging interview that touched on the TIFT production, which kicks off the troupe’s 10th anniversary season, and is the new Mady Centre’s inaugural presentation since opening in September, her love of acting in general and Shakespeare in particular, and the importance of the arts, especially during tough economic times.
‘Do You Turn Somersaults?’ is set in Russia, in 1968. It’s the story of two people, a man and a woman, who find each other at a sanatorium – more a kind of spa where you can “get a little healing,” says Peacock.
The two are of a certain age where they perhaps consider life’s adventures to be behind them, and discover, upon meeting, that might not be the case. It’s also a story of opposites attracting, as the man and woman are very different people. He’s a doctor at the sanatorium, and she a ‘resident’ who arrived to sort out life’s ‘accumulative crisis.’
“She has kind of hit a wall in being able to move forward in her life … (and) she keeps getting into trouble at the sanatorium because she is kind of a free spirit – a bit of a rare bird,” says Peacock, describing the character she plays.
As a result, she keeps upsetting the format of the sanatorium, doctors, nurses, patients, because she wants to do things her own way.
“Which means climbing through windows, dancing in the garden, going for a walk on the beach when they are all supposed to be asleep.”
The doctor comes into the picture because he is the one who has to try to dissuade her from this disruptive behaviour, and at first they don’t get along because, as mentioned, they are very different in nature.
“He’s very conservative, very rigid, and she’s the exact opposite. You find out later in the play (that) they both harbour a lot of pain, grief and loss – and they are both very alone.”
The narrative rolls along with humour, communication and pathos in life’s losses, but “then there is also a really gorgeous, gentle, budding relationship,” reveals Peacock.
The play has two acts, an intermission and nine scenes. A musical score mingles with the narrative, as the two discover the “beautiful surprise that when you think life is over, maybe it isn’t quite so much.”
The actress was initially attracted to the play, and the character, due to its inherent charm. Digging a little deeper, she found it to be a well-written production, offering the ability to plump the depths of the material.
“There is a ton of exploration to be had, about life and what it throws you and how you carry that around with you. And it’s really interesting to explore that – it’s a very human situation.”
The chance to perform at a brand new theatre was a bonus, said Peacock, adding the Mady centre is an impressive building, in terms of functionality and design.
“It’s a beautiful building, very well conceived and properly thought through. I was really fascinated with how they can change the interior to whatever specifications the play warrants.”
The theatre, she says, fits the definition of a “true black box” form, “which means they can put the seats anywhere they want – they can make it work.”
She also happens to be a fan of Arkady Spivak, TIFT’s artistic director.
“This guy is fantastic. I really like Arkady. His commitment, sense of humour, charm, and the kind of insane energy that he puts through this theatre and theatre company are all really exciting. It’s truth. I really appreciate and recognize that, and that’s why I’m really happy to be here.”
The cast and director are also excited to be the opening act for the new theatre, downtown on the corner of the Five Points.
“I seriously hope this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.”
To the broader question about the importance of arts to a community, Peacock says theatre needs to be both accessible and affordable, not elitist – that it’s “a communal coming together … a shared experience” from school plays to professional theatre.
A vibrant and creative arts scene has a way of transforming a community, both culturally and economically, she says, offering Stratford as an example. Although the festival may have been the spark, the community is now a cultural hub for artists, artisans, painters, poets, singers, songwriters, and other creative talents.
“I think artists go where there is an opportunity and support that allows them to create and take risks and share their experiences.”
Not surprisingly, the actress was drawn to Shakespeare at a young age, recalling studying Othello in Grade 10, and marvelling at its complexities and themes.
“The thing about Shakespeare is that the stories are so rich and so full and deep. I always say when I’m teaching that I don’t believe Shakespeare only holds a mirror up to nature, he actually holds the mirror up to our potential.”
His subject material demonstrates our potential to indulge in all human emotions, eccentricities and desires, says Peacock.
“How far can you go? Well, you can go into Titus Andronicus, and bake a couple of people into a pie. Or you can go to the height of romance, Romeo and Juliet. How deep is the prejudice? Well, then you are into the Merchant of Venice.”
From an actor’s perspective, she says, the Bard of Avon allows one to explore individual potential. And, she adds, we know next to nothing about him, except his great works, which only adds to the mystique.
“The discoveries are so rich and so complex, and you go ‘that’s Freudian, or that’s that first sitcom.’ He somehow touched something inside himself that he could release that.”
She’s also a big fan of Anton Chekhov. “Shakespeare is like going to the gym, and extreme sports, and Chekhov is like going to the spa,” she says with a hearty laugh.
Asked about contemporary favourites, she mentions Canadian playwright Morris Panych, “who, I always say, is one of the coolest cats I know – a great guy and creator.” She will perform in one of his plays next season at Stratford.
Theatre, says Peacock, is about connecting with an audience, and during tough economic times, that historical role may be more important than ever.
“History will tell you that when things get rough, who you need to turn to are the artists … to help you see, and feel, and sense rather than just counting quarters. You have to look inward during these tough times and to each other.”

• By the way, did you know that Lucy Peacock is also an author? She has penned a book of limericks, copies of which are available at the Mady Centre, and she’ll be doing signings at the theatre.

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