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South Simcoe Theatre production ‘Burn’ lights up the stage in Cookstown

Local theatre welcomes back audiences with Burn, a psychological thriller by John Muggleton, that is escapism at its very best

Burn: To be damaged, injured or destroyed by heat or fire. Slang: To cheat, swindle, victimize.

Nothing is as it seems in Burn, the play by Canadian playwright John Muggleton chosen to open the 2021/2022 season of Cookstown’s South Simcoe Theatre. Burn is an exploration of friendship and betrayal – a psychological thriller, filled with secrets, exposure, revenge, humor, even love, and as many twists and turns as a fire running underground.

It’s the first in-person production on stage at the Old Town Hall Theatre since the COVID-19 pandemic forced closures and restrictions on gatherings. So, why choose a thriller to open the delayed season? Especially at a time when audiences have been exhausted by the stresses and ongoing horrors of a pandemic and the current world situation?

The excellence of the writing and the gripping storyline, explained Producer Richard Birch. “It just grabbed us.”

He acknowledged, “It is a bold choice… We wanted something that was memorable.”

Burn is memorable, thanks to the skillful writing, and the quality of the performances under director Candy Pryce.

The one-act play, entirely set in a writer’s loft, has a small cast made smaller by the fact that two of the six characters – writers Paul, voiced by John Sellens, and Tara (Peg Eberhard) - are never physically present on stage. They are only heard in off-stage conversation during the opening minutes of the play, at a remembered festive gathering of five friends, although their personalities shape everything that follows.

It is the tour-de-force performances by the four key characters that carry the play, from its opening light-hearted reminiscences, to the tearing apart of the bonds of friendship and silence.

As Burn begins, Robert (Frank Kewin) is sorting through manuscripts left by his wife Tara, a successful mystery and horror writer who disappeared five years earlier, and awaiting the arrival of friends David (Robert Knapp) and Samira (Catherine McCauley). They are gathering for the first time in years, to mourn the recent death of Paul, and meet Paul’s daughter Eve (Rebecca Kratky) – but to say more would give away the many twists in the plot.

It's enough to say that nothing is as it seems.

“This play explores of the limits of friendship – delving into rivalries, jealousies, secrets, betrayals and retributions – and confronting one of our worst fears: finding out that you never really knew them at all, that you’ve been burned,” noted Pryce.

And Birch was right. Burn, with all of its horror, psychological intensity and exploration of dark corners, is the perfect antidote to COVID – an experience that fills the stage and captures the imagination.

The production meets Pryce’s goal, of leaving the audience “not merely being entertained, but captivated!”

Burn is on stage at the South Simcoe Theatre, 1 Hamilton St. in Cookstown, from March 6 to March 20. Tickets are $22 per person; call the box office at 705-458-4432 to reserve, or  click here. Warning: the play contains language and violence that are definitely not suitable for children.