Click Here to follow along on our Ontario Theatre Tour as we explore the communities and companies outside of the city that we’ve never encountered before.


One of the great treats on the Ontario Theatre Tour thus far has been visiting the Blyth Festival. Not only is their outdoor venue one of the most beautiful settings in Ontario but the company’s rich history and proximity to Stratford helps attract incredible talent for their sturdy productions.


(Also on the “proximity to Stratford” point, we were able to squeeze in a Here For Now matinee in between Blyth shows, which was a convenient thrill).


Particularly exciting this year is that the company is taking on the incredibly ambitious Donnelly Trilogy, playwright James Reaney’s sprawling series of Canadian history plays about an Irish immigrant family’s trials, triumphs, and untimely end very near by. In terms of actual content, the series could probably be fit into two plays as the final section is extremely lean (well under two hours including a long intermission and an extended dance sequence) but the epicness is the point and the three-night commitment has an impactful once-in-a-lifetime feel.


The ensemble cast is excellent though I wished they’d enforce a consensus on accents (either everyone, no one, or just the parents and cousin Bridget). The weekend we attended, part one was rained out so the show moved to Blyth’s indoor stage, a perfectly serviceable if humble venue that was a fun contrast if only because we were confident we’d get to see the use of the outdoor venue as intended the following two nights. The indoor version is more like a semi-staged reading of the play rather than the boisterous outdoor pieces with their multi-level set and memorable moments of outdoors-only stagecraft (you can’t bring a live horse and buggy inside, to say nothing of the incredibly effective climactic sequence in part three that would be impossible to replicate should that part be unfortunately rained out) but for part one it was a nice way to focus on the performers and the storytelling. Part two was my personal favourite, and the most fun by far, with lots of song, stagecoach racing, and two very sweet love stories (it’s always a privilege to watch Mark Uhre fall in love and his Michael Donnelly is the trilogy’s most captivating figure).


With so many characters spanning many years, every member of the 10-person cast takes on multiple roles, at least one of which is a member of the Donnelly family and at least one of which is someone who persecuted the Donnelly family in some way. This creates effective tension and thoughtful subtext while also just being practical. Reaney’s plays are structured to function each as their own piece but are definitely best enjoyed together, ideally in relatively quick succession so that every full circle moment can be fully felt. Individually, they’re not the most thrilling plays (it’s a lot of fighting over farm land), but their grandeur and the experience of seeing them well-played so close to the location of the Donnellys’ real history was a special experience. What a thrilling piece of programming for our first trip to the Blyth Festival.


The Blyth setting is a big part of the experience, for better and worse. It’s so small that you feel as if you and the rest of the audience there for the full cycle are camping out and I always love the dichotomy of big theatre in a small town. But there’s truly nothing in this small town except the theatre company. The unassuming Blyth Inn has some decent pub food and we wandered a trail or two but quickly found we had nowhere to go between check-out and the unconventionally timed 8pm Sunday show (we ended up hiding out at Cowbell Brewery, which has a bit of a bigger town feel with decent food but you’re really not supposed to take up a table for like 4 hours just because you have nowhere else to go). If a multi-part show like this comes up again in Blyth, I’d highly suggest booking an extra night so you can hang out at your accommodation when there’s nowhere to bide your time in town, though keep in mind that most places in Blyth are surprisingly pricey, I assume because there aren’t many hotel options. We stayed at a great AirBnB called the Trails End Spa Retreat that was indeed a little pricey but was a fantastic home away from home with a spacious living area, kitchenette, massive hot tub, and great treats left by the hosts. It really made for a lovely weekend when all you need is great theatre and a place to be while you wait for more great theatre.