They were meant to meet in time for The Mousetrap, it seems.
Director Wendy Bollard and actress Laine Henderson of Peninsula Productions’ latest project – a local restaging of the celebrated Agatha Christie mystery (July 11-28, Coast Capital Playhouse) – were aware of each other as fellow performers, even though they’d never worked together before.
But their lives have some interesting parallels.
Both are singers of exceptional quality – Bollard an established Vancouver jazz diva who’s sung with her own groups and the likes of Dal Richards and his Orchestra, Henderson as interpreter of her own pop and jazz-tinged songs in venues as far afield as New York and Dublin, and as a soprano in the North American touring company of Riverdance.
Both have a Celtic heritage (Bollard’s by way of Ireland, Henderson’s by way of Scottish parentage) and both, coincidentally, found themselves in Ireland at crucial, crossroads moments in their lives.
Both subsequently found happy marriages and settled on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
And when Bollard advertised an open casting call for The Mousetrap (followup to her successful directorial debut with Waiting For The Parade last year) it was the perfect timing for Henderson to take on a new challenge – the role of Mollie Ralston, owner of Monkswell Manor, the snowbound guest house that becomes the scene of murder in the 1952 theatre classic.
It’s a challenge Henderson is thoroughly enjoying, she said, partly because of Bollard’s welcoming, helpful direction and partly because it fulfills an early ambition.
Mother of two young children (husband Jack Sixsmith is proprietor of popular Marine Drive restaurant Slainte by the Pier) the North Vancouver-raised Henderson has played to every kind of audience, from intimate bar and lounge settings to sold-out shows at the huge venues commanded by the Riverdance phenomenon.
“But I’ve never acted before, other than in my Grade 9 drama class production of Sorry Wrong Number,” she admitted.
The showy lead role of that piece – a neurotic woman who believes she is going to be murdered – was coveted by a classmate who was ill when the auditions were held, Henderson recalled, so even though she won the part, “we had to share the role.”
Music subsequently came to the fore in her life, including studies at Capilano College, Vancouver Community College and Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“And almost every musician from Boston goes to New York,” she said of her first stay in the Big Apple, which brought her recognition as a performer, but also some unhappy personal circumstances that led her to relocate in Ireland for a spell.
Acting had always been in the back of her mind, however, even when she moved to White Rock.
“I’ve always wanted to do it,” she said. “I auditioned for the White Rock pantomime a couple of years ago, but didn’t get in – which was probably good, because pantomime wasn’t really what I wanted to do.”
Even so, she was hesitant when she first contacted Bollard about The Mousetrap auditions.
“I said, ‘I’ve no experience – I don’t want to waste your time,’” she remembered.
“She definitely did not waste my time,” said Bollard, noting she had no trepidation about casting Henderson in the role of Mollie after hearing her perceptive reading.
In many ways, newlywed Mollie is the archetypal young Englishwoman of the early 1950s in Christie’s vision, Bollard explains – resourceful, kind, proper, but also in the first flush of romantic love with her husband Giles.
Mollie’s accepting reaction to the unusual guests in her home – including the ‘mannish’ Miss Casewell and the highly flamboyant Christopher Wren – is an important element in the sleight-of-hand of the canny Christie, who, Bollard points out, was never averse to playing with the social mores and prejudices of her time to spice up her whodunnit plots.
“Laine walked in (to the audition) and was Mollie,” Bollard said. “Nobody else who read for Mollie quite got the feel for the 1950s that she did – the way she sat, the way she looked at Giles.”
Bollard said she feels fortunate to have a strong cast that combines both seasoned and less-seasoned performers.
It includes Stephen Benjamin Fowler (Giles), Everett Shea (Wren), and Lori Tych (Casewell), plus Deborah Spitz as ever-complaining guest Mrs. Boyle, Paul Kloegman as military man Major Metcalf, Sam Gordon as the colourful Mr. Paravicini and Spencer Dunlop as Sergeant Trotter, the investigating policeman.
“They’re really very good – they’re making it really easy,” Bollard said. “I think the secret to a good play is casting well, and then making a space where the actors feel free to explore their instincts.”
Both Bollard and Henderson agree that their connection through The Mousetrap bodes well for future theatrical collaborations – which would suit Henderson just fine, she said.
For tickets to The Mousetrap, call the Coast Capital boxoffice at 604-536-7535 or visit www.whiterockplayers.ca