SACKVILLE, N.B. – Live Bait Theatre is returning to the stage this week with a new historical thriller that will shine a spotlight on one of Sackville’s most famous and still unsolved murders and the family intrigue and betrayal that followed.
Reader Be Thou Also Ready opens this week, offering audiences a look back at the captivating story behind the William Fawcett murder nearly 200 years ago.
The mainstage production, which is inspired by actual events, is likely to appeal to anyone who loves a true mystery, say the actors who make up the cast of the show.
“Although it’s about the murder, it’s also about the people,” says Samantha Cade, who portrays Elizabeth Fawcett and Sarah Fawcett in the show, as well as taking on various other roles in the production. “It’s about love.”
“The story we’re telling is of the family and the family dynamics . . .and what happened to the family to get it to that point,” says Cade.
Adapted for the stage from the novel of the same name by Robert James, the play is written by actor and playwright Charlie Rhindress, co-founder and former artistic director of Live Bait Theatre. Now living in Halifax, Rhindress has written 13 full-length plays, including The Maritime Way of Life, which was nominated for a Canadian Comedy award as best new play, and Flying On Her Own, based on the life of the late Canadian singer/songwriter Rita MacNeil.
The first of the shows will kick off tomorrow evening, Thursday, July 9 and the production will run through until Saturday, July 18 at Tantramar Regional High School. The evening performances will begin at 7 p.m. and there will be two matinee performances at 2 p.m., one on Sunday, July 12 and the other Saturday, July 18.
Karen Valanne, who is directing the show, says this is a project she’s been dreaming about doing for many years, ever since she read the novel back in 2009.
“I was fascinated by the family dynamics that led to the murder and really wanted to explore this story in depth,” she says.
Valanne said she is also excited about directing a show with such a strong local connection.
“To me, this is very much a Sackville story, with the history and landscape of this story very important elements in the play,” she says.
Valanne says Live Bait has assembled an “extremely talented” cast and crew for this show and she can’t wait to share the production with the audiences.
The story is told from the perspective of James George, an orphan who was taken in by the Fawcetts and hired to work on the farm. He later married Elizabeth Fawcett and “very much became part of the family,” says Jeffrey O’Hara, who is taking on the role.
O’Hara, originally from Stanley, N.B, and now living in Halifax, said the play leads the audience through a 15-year span, with many of the characters changing drastically over that time.
His own character, for example, starts out as “a lost boy, an orphan who is just trying to fit in somewhere,” and spends the play searching for a family and trying to establish a place.
“He finds that father figure in William Fawcett and establishes that family that’s been missing in his life,” says O’Hara. “And even though he’s technically not a member of the family, he becomes very devoted to the Fawcetts.”
William, an extremely religious man, one who was seen by many as a moral and ethical pillar of the community, was shot through his kitchen window while reading his Bible around 10 p.m. on the evening of June 19, 1832.
While William’s headstone in the old Methodist graveyard in Middle Sackville and two newspaper articles from the New Brunswick Royal Gazette provide the only known details of the murder, rumours and speculation have always surrounded the case.
Jamie Bradley, who is taking on the role of William Fawcett, said the actors had an opportunity last month to speak with descendants of the Fawcett/George family who still live in the area, helping them to get a better handle on the family history and why and how this murder happened.
Bradley, also from Halifax, said it was interesting to delve into the family dynamics behind this story, with an orphan being welcomed so enthusiastically into a household and perhaps the reactions and emotions that might incite.
Cade says she didn’t know much about the story when she first auditioned for her part but as she learns more, she has become more and more intrigued.
“I was really hooked,” she says. “I liked the characters; they just felt very real.”
Simon Henderson, who grew up Hampton, N.B. but now lives in Toronto, has been cast as Rufus Fawcett, the youngest in the family.
“He is a bit spoiled because he’s the baby . . . and probably a bit wayward,” says Henderson. “And he wants very much to be his father’s son but finds the expectations placed on him too difficult to meet.”
Tickets for the show can be purchased at the Live Bait Box office, by calling 506-536-2248, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.