CAUGHT IN THE WEB

The Hamilton Spectator - - Arts & Life - GARY SMITH Gary Smith has writ­ten on theatre and dance for The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor for more than 35 years. gsmith1@co­geco.ca Spe­cial to The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor

“The name is Scot­tish — well, Gaelic,” Mairi Babb says.

She brought it with her when she came to Canada at the age of five. She also brought a love of telling sto­ries. Maybe that’s what made her want to be an ac­tress.

“My high school drama teacher got me in­ter­ested in go­ing on the stage,” she says. “He had me do­ing all these farces in Vic­to­ria where I was grow­ing up. It was great fun.”

A dark-haired, an­i­mated woman, Babb says she loved to sing and wanted to go into opera pro­fes­sion­ally.

“I was 17 and I was told to wait un­til my voice ma­tured. Well, while I was wait­ing I was do­ing all these straight plays and I fell in love with do­ing them.

“I was in­ter­ested in more se­ri­ous ones too, of course. I re­mem­ber do­ing a Pin­ter play with a friend in high school. And my first pro­fes­sional show was, ‘A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream’ at Bard on the Beach in Van­cou­ver.”

In Win­nipeg, where she lived later, she acted with Man­i­toba Theatre Cen­tre and Prairie Theatre Ex­change.

“The peo­ple are in­trepid in that city,” she says, laugh­ing. “They even do out­door theatre in the win­ter. No one holes up, they just keep go­ing.”

Babb has just fin­ished a stint at Port Dover’s Light­house Theatre do­ing Norm Fos­ter’s “Screw­ball Com­edy.” Sur­pris­ingly, com­edy is part of the next play she’s tack­ling in Hamil­ton at Theatre Aquarius.

“We don’t think of Agatha Christie as some­one who writes funny lines,” Babb says, “But her 1952 play ‘Spi­der’s Web’ has a fair share of them. Of course it’s a mur­der mys­tery, with all of Christie’s usual clues to keep you guess­ing.

“For me, her sto­ries are trea­sure hunts. If you pay at­ten­tion you end up solv­ing the mys­tery along with the char­ac­ters on stage. There’s a sense of own­er­ship. Peo­ple love the act of fig­ur­ing mys­ter­ies out.”

“Spi­der’s Web” was writ­ten for the English ac­tress Mar­garet Lock­wood, who ap­peared in such clas­sic Bri­tish movies as “Wicked Lady” and “Jassy.”

A stage star as well, Lock­wood saw Christie’s megahit “The Mouse­trap,” which was pack­ing in au­di­ences in Lon­don’s West End. Lock­wood asked Dame Agatha if she would write a mys­tery for her and she obliged.

“Spi­der’s Web” didn’t quite match “The Mouse­trap” for longevity. The show is still run­ning now in its 67th year, but the play turns up now and then in sum­mer stock and at re­gional the­atres.

“I play Clarissa, a young up­per­class woman with a ter­rific imag­i­na­tion. She likes to tell sto­ries and make things up,” Babb says.

“Noth­ing ex­cit­ing has ever hap­pened to her, so in her own mind she makes up great ad­ven­tures. She lives through predica­ments she in­vents. One night the ul­ti­mate predica­ment hap­pens to her. She dis­cov­ers a body. That’s when she gets to put her imag­i­na­tion to use.”

Babb is pleased to be work­ing with di­rec­tor Mar­cia Kash again. “I played Miep in ‘The Di­ary of Anne Frank’ here at Aquarius in 2009 and I en­joyed be­ing di­rected by Mar­cia. She’s one of the best di­rec­tors I’ve worked with.”

Babb ad­mits she’s a bit daunted by the role she’s play­ing this time round.

“It’s a star part. I’m sel­dom off­stage. I’m im­mensely grate­ful to be trusted with it. I’m just work­ing hard to get it right, but re­ally, how do you eat an ele­phant? It’s just so huge.

“Of course, this is a great en­sem­ble cast and the show is go­ing to look amaz­ing on the Aquarius stage. It’s set in a great draw­ing room with lovely fur­nish­ings. Then there are the clothes I get to wear. It’s go­ing to be a beau­ti­ful look­ing show de­signed by Pa­trick Clark. I think au­di­ences will leave feel­ing they’ve been en­ter­tained,” she con­tin­ues.

True con­fes­sion time: Dur­ing our in­ter­view, Babb ad­mit­ted she had never seen an Agatha Christie play on stage.

At the same time there were some things she would not dis­close, her age for in­stance. When asked, she screwed up her face and let a grin wash over it.

“I’m age­less,” she fi­nally says with a laugh. “In this business, as soon as some­one at­taches a num­ber to you you’re put in a box. Bet­ter to leave such num­bers un­re­vealed, don’t you think?”

SAN­DRA MUL­DER BANKOMEDIA

Mairi Babb plays Clarissa in Theatre Aquarius’ “Spi­der’s Web.”

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