The Other Guys Theatre Company
Good Timber - Songs & Stories of the Western Logger

Dates and Venue 7 – 13 August 2012, 8pm Tues – Sun (3pm Sun & 1pm Wed matinees) | Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova St.

Director Ross Desprez Musical director Tobin Stokes Visual Designer John Carswell Costume Designer Erin Macklem Set Designer Peter Pokorny Lighting Designer Keith Houghton Audio Technician Ben Brysiuk Stage Manager Karley Wolfert

Musicians John Gogo, Colleen Eccleston, Kelt Eccleston, Ross Desprez and Mark Hellman,

Reviewer John Jane

If British Columbians were indeed hewers of wood and drawers of water just a few decades ago, then they were definitely pretty darn good at it. Good Timber: Songs and Stories of the Western Logger is the musical creation by a group of composer/musicians that are collectively known as Other Guys Theatre Company. It’s part homage to the poetic observations of Robert Swanson who will be forever acknowledged as the “Bard of the Woods,” part musical revue and part history lesson.

Good Timber harkens back to the halcyon days of logging in the Pacific Northwest. Swanson’s poems could be considered as a ‘woodsy’ equivalent of Robert Service’s doggerel verse of the Yukon gold rush and perhaps just as poignant. The show is based around 14 Swanson poems plus an additional eight by others, making 22 poems in total, most of which are set to music. The songs are sung in woodsmen’s vernacular, but don’t worry, there is a Logger’s Lexicon provided in the programme. I discovered alternative meanings for words like “hooker” (yarding crew boss) and “punk” (a signalman).

Swanson's poems chronicle a time when the logging industry was undergoing technological change; handsaws being replaced by chainsaws and steam engines being replaced by diesel-power. This is shown in visual form with an intriguing multi-media package that includes historical film footage and monochrome archival images.

The six performers play an eclectic selection of musical instruments, both conventional and unconventional. I was fascinated with the sound that Colleen Eccleston created just by sharpening an axe head with a metal file.

Some of the poems are highly evocative. The Death of Rough House Pete, delivered in spoken word format by Ross Desprez, is a cautionary tale of a real life character named Pete Ohlsen. He worked as a hook-tender when sober and came to an untimely end in a house of ill repute. Another, The Cat Skinners' Prayer, almost requires a mechanical acumen to understand.

While it’s Swanson's colourful writing and the “cast” of talented musicians that draw the most plaudits, the show can boast pretty good production values too. Erin Maclem’s authentic clothing that even includes logging boots helped give the impression that the players were only on weekend leave from some remote logging camp.

Good Timber could be enjoyed by anyone, or has known someone who has ever worked in a BC logging camp, or even anyone who wished that they had worked in a BC logging camp.

© 2012 John Jane