Up to Low is a new theatrical adaptation of Brian Doyle’s young adult fiction tale. It follows Tommy and his friend Bridget on a life-changing adventure in Low, QC one summer in the 1950s.
Should you see it?
The audience at Up to Low had an almost reverential feel on opening night, as though this were a very momentous and special occasion. As an Ottawa implant, I didn’t understand the fuss until a pre-show speech explained how Brian Doyle (writer of Up to Low) is one of this city’s greatest literary treasures. I then learned that Low is an actual town north of Wakefield and the title of the show suddenly made sense.
Armed with this contextual knowledge, I understood the local excitement for this play and came to quickly develop matching enthusiasm of my own. This show is point-blank excellent. From the opening scene full of joyous live music to the beautifully emotional and poignant ending, Up to Low is captivating, heart-warming, and above all, magical.
Much as I love theatre, I am a voracious reader first and foremost. Having read a lot of young adult fiction in recent years, particularly of this genre, I was absolutely stunned at how well this dramatization brought everything about the book to life. I not only felt transported to Quebec in the 1950s but I also felt completely immersed in the narration and surprisingly connected with our young hero Tommy. It’s rare that I get the same power from seeing a play as I do from the world of my own imagination as a reader, but Up to Low delivered.
The first act of this play is funny and light. It introduces us to young Tommy, his father, his good-natured alcoholic uncle Frank, and the various family, friends, and townsfolk who populate their lives. The long drive from Ottawa to Low is eventful in Frank’s new car and gives us all the background we need for the second act without ever feeling like exposition. The second act is where the story takes off as Tommy reunites with Bridget, a girl whom he fondly remembers and quickly falls for. Bridget’s father is a mean and abusive man who abandoned his family a month ago after learning he was dying of cancer. Tommy and Bridget set out to find him with shocking results. The ending had me smiling and in tears.
I can’t choose a single aspect of this show as my favourite. Thanks to creative staging and innovative use of props, a small, long, and narrow stage ends up being everything it needs to be. The soundtrack was one of the best I’ve ever heard and complemented every piece of action perfectly. And the acting from everyone was phenomenal but perhaps particularly from Megan Carty who had a tough role in the young, crippled Bridget and played her with effortless innocence and compassion. I also really enjoyed the physicality of Attila Clemann’s Uncle Frank. Everyone did a great job and this is definitely a show worth seeing for the whole family.