In the Classic Theatre Festival production of the mystery thriller I’ll Be Back before Midnight, running at 54 Beckwith Street East in Perth until September 10, Toronto-based performer Chandel Gambles takes on the role of Laura, a sister-in-law whose unexpected appearance at a spooky old farmhouse sets off a chain of events that leads to the show’s stunning conclusion.
The production has garnered strong audience response, while the Capital Critics Circle writes that “together, director, crew and the well-integrated cast deliver a funny and even sometimes scary production that keeps audiences laughing and gasping.”
Audiences may not be sure what to make of Gambles’ character when she first appears. “Laura is a very interesting character because although she comes across as a powerhouse of a woman, in control of all aspects of her life, she is also incredibly vulnerable,” Gambles says. “Every character seeks love. It is a central need that drives the character to be accepted and, eventually, happy. When we get to see the hidden, and vulnerable moments of Laura, we are confronted with the reality that she too has an internal battle going on, just like everyone watching. Maybe we don’t agree with all of her choices, but those moments help us understand why she is making them.”
Gambles says she enjoys the role because Laura’s “mercurial personality keeps you on your toes, wondering what she could do at any turn. It’s a bit like having a pet boa constrictor in the room. It is magnificent to consider her switching from a slithering smoothness to a powerful attacking strike at any moment, depending on if she’s feeling threatened or sensuous at that time. She could be resting, or about to slither across the room and squeeze all the power out of her opposition, before comfortably coiling herself across her environment. That behaviour is natural in a snake, and equally natural in her.”
Like many a performer, Gambles’ fascination with the theatre springs from an early age, playing dress-up with a wardrobe full of costumes. At the age of 8, she won her first role in a community children’s theatre production of Tom Sawyer. “The excitement of making people laugh, cry, and gasp was such a delight that from that first live production, that I became utterly hooked by the acting bug!”
Gambles received formal theatre training at the University of Guelph in a program designed to focus on Canadian theatre “and developing new works that speak to our unique cultural experiences.” She focused on acting and directing, as well as physical theatre. “I found it exciting to work with masks and see how live actors could use silence, space, and movement to fill the story before a single word is spoken. Physical theatre seems to be the realm where the spoken word and the dancer’s body collide and it’s a fascinating area to explore.”
That background helped her score her first professional role at Ottawa Odyssey Theatre’s production of The Financier. “The show looked like a beautifully balanced dance beneath the main story, held by dynamic characters that I fell in love with every night,” she recalls. “It was an utter gift to have been brought into the professional masked theatre world with such a memorable production.
Equally adept at theatre and television and film work, Gambles says theatre offers the “thrill of the unknown moment. In the theatre, anything can happen, and no two shows will ever be the same. The actors feed off the energies of the audience finding a rhythm to match their pace, while driving the story along to match the viewer’s wonder and horror. There is a thrill in the possibility of a free, unknown element, which could step off the stage at any moment and suddenly shift the show from the presentational to the dangerously intimate and unexpected interaction.”
A busy performer, Gambles has also spent the past four years teaching theatre in high schools across Ontario and Quebec, singing and entertaining on cruise ships in Australia, organizing charity financial aid for professional artists in extreme emergencies across Canada, managing tours for children’s theatres, and administering special events for a large Opera company.
For now, though, she remains intensely focused on a show that’s described as kin to a rollercoaster ride. “I hope audiences leave this show with a lot of laughter, a few nervous twitches, and a couple of lingering questions. The excitement of this thriller lies in the fact that you don’t know who is out to stir up trouble, how they’ll do it, and when it will happen. Does anyone deserve what happens to them? Was anyone justified in their actions? Or reactions? And was it fair? I’d be quite pleased to hear audiences say that they have mixed feelings about everything they witnessed and how the end played out…because isn’t that what make rollercoasters so much fun?”
I’ll Be Back Before Midnight, which has been drawing viewers aged 9 to 95, runs Tues. to Sun., at 2 pm, with 8 pm shows Wed. & Sat. Tickets at www.ticketsplease.ca or 1-877-283-1283.