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'Queen Maeve' by Judith Thompson

World Premiere presented by Here for Now Theatre

Ann Baggley

Joe Szekeres

A Voice Choice for a ferocious performance by Clare Coulter.

88-year-old Mrs. Nurmi (a glorious performance by Clare Coulter) lives in Providence Manor, Cornwall, Ontario. She says the residence remains ‘dark’ and ‘dank.’ The PSWs and nurses rarely come if the call button is pushed. The mealtime food is horrible. At least one of the residents dies per week.

It appears Mrs. Nurmi suffers from some form of dementia. When triggered, this ‘lonely and unremarkable’ woman transforms into Queen Maeve, Irish Warrior Queen, also known as ‘The Wolf Queen.’

As the story unfolds, Mrs. Nurmi confronts her grandson Jake (Michael Neale). He has substance abuse issues but has come to visit because he has an idea and needs money to get his idea of a YouTube series off the ground. Nurmi’s daughter, Georgia, (Allegra Fulton), leads a complicated and ‘drama queen’ lifestyle. Caroline Gillis is Maeve’s PSW (Personal Support Worker) who sometimes becomes the only individual with whom Maeve can make any kind of personal connection.

Immediately on stage left of Mrs. Nurmi’s residence room, musician Cait Watson’s accompaniment effectively underscores moments of emotional impact. The lone Celtic pipe tune she plays at the top of the show becomes a haunting invitation for the audience to listen. There are several moments when Watson quietly becomes a silent and sympathetic onlooker to what occurs in Mrs. Nurmi’s life and mind. It seems appropriate then for Watson to be clothed in a costume which resembles warriors from long ago. She never upstages the action, but her presence is always felt.

Bonnie Deakin’s drab-looking set of an easy chair covered with a sorry-looking bedsheet and throw blanket gives an immediate glimpse of what life is like at Providence Manor. The side table contains a mess of papers and stuff thrown in the two drawers. Barbara Kozicki Beall has selected an appropriate-looking mismatched costume for Mrs. Nurmi - an oversized sleeper top with pyjama bottoms that have seen better days. She wears pink open-toe slippers.

In their Director’s Note, Murdoch Schon writes: “Queen Maeve is more than about an elderly woman trapped in a care facility.” Schon compassionately directs Judith Thompson’s engaging one-act script with a clear vision of family, purpose, death, belonging, and resilience. It’s not a clichéd story about lonely seniors in a nursing home.

It’s more.

Far more.

And this production hits right in the gut.

Clare Coulter's opening monologue becomes a masterclass in acting. She’s focused intently while sitting in the chair. She commands attention by pausing a few seconds and looking at the audience before speaking. Coulter remains in the moment believably and naturally. She tells her story plainly and as a matter of fact. It’s a gripping monologue that makes me want to journey with Mrs. Nurmi, however long that may be.

Coulter’s transformations to Queen Maeve are sublime. These transitions smoothly become elegant, physical, and regal gestures. For example, as Queen, Coulter takes a sword from Cait Watson and stands before one of the characters as a royal warrior in battle long ago. There is a surprising moment of suspense at this moment. As Maeve appears to be in a rage, Coulter has the sword raised so that I honestly thought it would come right down and lop off the head of the individual in question.

Maeve embodies the ferocity of Shakespeare’s King Lear. They both rage against oppressive familial confines that threaten to destroy.

But she’s more than Lear. Instead, ‘Maeve’ learns she will leave this world accountable to no earthly bound individual. At one point, she says her body is in two places. The outer shell remains, but her spirit and soul will have departed from this world on her terms.

As an attentive audience member, to watch Coulter attain these emotional performance highs and lows is an absolute joy.

The supporting characters equally match this level of intensity.

Allegra Fulton captures Georgia’s manipulative childishness solidly. Her costume choice of being dressed entirely in black accentuates how any remaining energy life force has been sucked right out of her. Georgia claims to be depressed. Her alcoholic husband has left her. She brings home many men when her young son is asleep to fill the void in her life. Mrs. Nurmi, however, doesn’t buy any of this and demands that Georgia accept the consequences of her actions.

In contrast, Michael Neale’s Jake initially emanates warmth and compassion towards his grandmother when he first sees her after a long bus ride from Sudbury. Neale wears earth-tone colours and carries white lilies, beautiful but fragile flowers like his grandmother. The initial encounter between the two is palpably credible since she raised her grandson when her daughter Georgia left her child.

Jake’s badgering of his grandmother for the cash becomes a grim and sad reminder of what his mother, Georgia, probably did a long time ago to Mrs. Nurmi. When the truth is finally revealed about Jake, Mrs. Nurmi recognizes he holds those same qualities as his mother. She gives into Jake’s demands, knowing it may have disastrous consequences.

As PSW Siobhan, Caroline Gillis becomes a welcome respite of a personal connection for Mrs. Nurmi. Gillis becomes precisely what the old woman requires at this time in her life – someone who will stand up to the petulant demands, albeit caringly, of a woman who suffers from significant emotional distress. Siobhan has dealt with Mrs. Nurmi’s dementia outbursts many times. Gillis' performance has a calming sense of reason as she connects with the old woman in a way that her own child and grandchild cannot.

Final Comments: Once again, in their Director’s Note, Schon asks each of us to search through the legacies of our own families and ask ourselves what we’ve inherited.

It is a tough challenge, especially if we have elderly parents who might be going through precisely any form of dementia or mental distress.

‘Queen Maeve’ becomes that reminder to connect through those challenges of the darkness of the disease of the mind and continue to find the beauty of the moment no matter what has occurred.

This world premiere is an important one to see.

Running time: approximately 80 minutes with no intermission.

‘Queen Maeve’ runs until September 23 at the Stratford Perth Museum, 4275 Huron Road, Stratford. For tickets, call the Box Office at 519-272-HFNT or visit

HERE FOR NOW presents the World Premiere of
‘Queen Maeve’ by Judith Thompson

Directed by Murdoch Schon
Set Design: Bonnie Deakin
Costume Design: Barbara Kozicki Beall
Stage Management: Patrice Bowler

Performers: Clare Coulter, Allegra Fulton, Caroline Gillis, Michael Neale, Cait Watson

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