London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
John Radclive, who became Canada’s first professional executioner in 1892, is known to have hanged at least 69 people, but it is believed the number could be as high as 150.
The former London resident died from psoriasis of the liver in 1911. However, that won’t stop him from taking part in the annual Lost Soul Stroll, which kicks off Oct. 5 and runs various days throughout the month.
OK, an actor playing Radclive will be taking part in the stroll, but the tale of the nation’s first hangman is just one of the things Kathy Navackas, executive producer of London Fringe, which operates the stroll, loves about the event.
“One of our guides is John Radclive, I mean who knew Ontario had a professional hangman, and the first one was in London,” said Navackas, who added another guide is Johannah Donnelly, matriarch of the Donnelly family. “So yes, we focus on the dark and the macabre, which is delightful. People have a lot of fun.”
This is the eighth year of the Lost Souls Stroll, which takes place in the downtown core. Popularity of the show, Navackas said, will dictate if there are more performances near the end of the month.
The stroll involves actors dressed as characters from London’s past, sharing their stories with the audience that walks along with them. Those stories may revolve around the city’s darker past, but Navackas said they are still important pieces of history to be shared and preserved.
“There aren’t very many other opportunities where we are truly telling London’s story, bringing it to life, sometimes with humour. London has some fascinating tales, this is one way we can bring them to life,” Navackas said. “We act them out and it becomes memorable so we don’t lose this history. You aren’t going to forget these stories easily.”
And those stories are thanks to the efforts of playwright Jason Rip. Navackas credits Rip with being the successor to the late Chris Doty as the “local go to guy on history or bits of knowledge.”
Rip was charged to create the script for the stroll and Navackas said he has once again done a tremendous job.
“Chris can never be replaced, but Jason is coming pretty close. His knowledge of London history is vast and extensive,” Navackas said. “He does hours and hours of research to get his story right. Granted, we do take some liberties, this is after all theatre.”
While Navackas gives Rip full credit for his script, she also praises the efforts of director John Gerry with bringing the story alive. Of course, to do so, Gerry has to rely on the strength of this year’s 11-person cast.
“Most ghost walks have one knowledgeable person taking you around. For this one, the characters tell the stories, they come to life and that makes it memorable,” Navackas said. “John just takes this script, and the actors, and it comes alive. It is the magic of theatre most definitely.”
That magic is made for the crowds who come out for the stroll. Navackas said the number of people allowed per show has been brought down to 60 from 80 last year so as to make for a more intimate performance. After all, as the actors have to rely on their voice alone — amplified sounds outdoors being too problematic — Navackas said smaller groups are better, but also “a littler eerier, a little creepier, which is a good thing.”
The stroll involves splitting the audience in two, allowing the groups to head in opposite directions through the downtown.
Strolling through downtown London with some ghoulish characters might sound like something of a problem in itself. However, Navackas said nothing could be further from the truth.
“Most bystanders ask what is going on and become ticket buyers themselves. Which is one reason we don’t announce the route,” Navackas said. “It is in the downtown core, you don’t have to climb any mountains. You do need to dress for the weather. And if it is drizzly out, there is nothing like that for adding that Halloween feel to it.”
Tickets for the stroll are $17 ($25 after Oct. 6) and are available at the Fringe office (515 Richmond St., Unit 2) or online through the website, www.lostsoulstroll.com.
Whether someone is interested in an inexpensive night of live, and interactive, theatre, or simply wants to learn more about the history of the Forest City, the Lost Soul Stroll provides not only those benefits, but also Navackas said, several others as well.
“I hope they take away an interest in local history while expanding their horizons of what theatre and performance can be. It isn’t just what happens inside four walls,” Navackas said. “And if they can also come away saying, ‘Wow, these are local actors, there is some real talent here.’ It is locally written, locally directed, with local actors telling local stories. This is just a wonderful way to showcase all that.”
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