The Manitoba Mystery Company’s latest production placed its audience members among the cast of Case at the Edge of the Woods last weekend at FortWhyte Alive.
The theatrical murder mystery is based on a real Manitoban cold case from 1932. Case at the Edge of the Woods is inspired by the murder of Lawrence Lees’s, a First World War veteran and park warden at Riding Mountain National Park. Despite having clues and evidence, Lees’s murder is yet unsolved.
Director Miranda Moroz, who also co-wrote and produced the play, said the production centers on Lees’ position as park warden.
Lees had many enemies who opposed his strict stand against poaching which gave rise to a cast of peculiar characters and a fictitious story.
“You arrive on site and you’re immersed in a town of outlandish characters who take you on a journey,” said Moroz.
“You actually get to participate in solving the mystery.”
Each staging of Case at the Edge of the Woods imparts a different feel in this collaborative theatre piece for both the audience and performers.
Set in different venues each time, the Manitoba Mystery Company’s productions show the cast’s brilliant job in adapting to different environments, while still adhering to the text and providing the interactive experience intended for the participants.
“It’s a type of a theatre called site-specific theatre […] and it’s staged uniquely to each venue, so it’s a different experience each time,” said Moroz.
In the production, Drew Jensen plays Eddie Kendrick, the character inspired by Lawrence Lees, as well as Stuart Madison, a nomadic hunter. Kendrick’s murder early on in the play allows for the events that follow.
Jensen said the audience’s participation is always unexpected.
“Honestly, there is no way to prepare for it,” said Jensen.
“You just have to go out there and do your work and have fun.”
Prior to its time at FortWhyte Alive, the production has stopped at other venues including the Seven Oaks House Museum on Sept. 21 and 22, the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada on Oct. 13 and Bentwood Hall in La Broquerie on Oct. 20 and 21.
Common to all of the production’s stagings is the novel experience offered to the audience member.
In lieu of being a seated onlooker, the audience takes on the role of active participants throughout the play.
Alistair Wright, who plays Kirkland Kells in the play, talked about the goal of the production.
“Our goal is that it doesn’t end up feeling like a traditional sit-down experience of theatre,” said Wright.
Dagen Perrott and Sophie George, who play Inspector James Buchanan and reporter Harriet Lockwood respectively, guide the audience through the crime scenes.
With an absent fourth wall, the audience is constantly cued in for clues and ideas for finding the suspect before the murderer’s next strike.
Jack Maier, playing the constable Basil Johnson, brings a touch of humour needed for this interactive experience as he helps to situate the audience into the time of the mystery.
“It’s a touring show in two ways,” said Wright.
“One because we move from place to place, and the other because the audience moves place to place within the show.”
“They never figured out who shot [Lees], but the play that we’re doing kind of takes that framework and we kind of fill in the rest. It’s clearly fiction but you know, it had that historical context of how the story started and we kind of came up with a way to continue that story.”