As part of their 50th anniversary celebrations, the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre has commissioned local actor, poet, and playwright Des Walsh to re-write his adaptation of Tomorrow Will Be Sunday, a play based on Harold Horwood’s novel by the same name, which was the very first stage production at the Arts & Culture Centre in 1967.
Dramatic readings of Walsh’s new adaptation of the play, directed by Charlie Tomlinson, will be performed in the Barbra Barrett Theatre on September 22nd and 23rd, at 7:30pm.
Tomorrow Will Be Sunday was originally adapted for the stage by Newfoundland playwright Tom Cahill, in 1967, and the staging of Cahill’s adaptation opened the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre. The play won a sub-regional competition of the Dominion Drama Festival, and went on to be performed at Expo ’67 in Montreal.
Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador suggests the play’s first run marked the emergence Newfoundland playwriting on the national stage.
Tomorrow Will Be Sunday is set in outport Newfoundland in the 1940s, and follows Eli Pallisher, the bookish son of a fisherman as he struggles with questions about his faith and his burgeoning sexuality. The play deals with abuse perpetrated by a member of the clergy, depicting a remote community festering in hypocrisy and deception.
Twenty-five years ago, Rising Tide Theatre commissioned Walsh to do his own adaption of Horwood’s novel. Walsh worked directly with the novel, choosing to not to read Cahill’s adaptation. When he wrote the first script, Walsh was very concerned with staying true to the novel. This time around he’s given himself a little bit more room to play.
“The novel was published in the ‘60s, and I may have relied too much on the dialogue from the novel, so I tried to get in and change it up a bit and make the characters more believable to my ear,” Walsh said. “I also dropped some characters from my original version, added some new scenes, and tried to flesh out some of the characters a little bit more.”
The 1992 production of Walsh’s Tomorrow Will Be Sunday featured a set designed by award-winning visual artist Gerald Squires.
“It was surreal and dreamlike, it was almost a cross between Gerry’s Boatman series and his Cassandra series,” Walsh said, describing the set. “It was the ribs of a ship that were also like the skeletal remains of a body, and the whole thing moved and creaked like a ship. He also did an amazing painting on a huge piece of canvas that was incredibly lit.”
Walsh says the dynamic set will be missed at the upcoming reading, but he knows the cast are more than capable of carrying the show without it. While this week’s production is more about showcasing the script and the actors’ skills than experimenting with elaborate staging, the actors will be accompanied by a simple soundscape.
“It won’t be the typical things you might expect like the sound of a sea gull,” Walsh said. “A sparsity of sound will give a sense of the isolation, and maybe even a sense of Eli’s internal loneliness.”
Walsh said that re-visiting the script twenty-five years later has made him appreciate the characters more deeply. Especially Eli, who he described saying, “I like Eli, I like what he’s struggling with as he becomes a young man in an isolated, very indoctrinated outport.”
Walsh believes the themes of corruption and indoctrination in Tomorrow Will Be Sunday remain relevant today, and Eli’s struggle will resonate with modern audiences.