Pure comedy about one of the toughest terrains on earth

Yukon Ho! (Minerva Theatre, Chichester, January 19, 7.45pm) is a show about the place Jennifer Irons left behind: “But like all the places we leave behind, somehow it keeps seeming to call me back!”

Yukon Ho! by Jennifer Irons photo Gigi Giannella
Yukon Ho! by Jennifer Irons photo Gigi Giannella

The show is pure comedy, Jennifer stresses, but it is comedy about a place which is one of the toughest terrains on earth – cold, dark and lonesome, with big animals, dubious men and dodgy liquor. Lots of liquor, in fact; a place where there are more caribou than people, tossing chainsaws is sport and watching bears forage for garbage is considered a big night out. It’s where Jen grew up and barely escaped.

She’s now inviting you to join her riotous cabaret-style survival guide and learn to quaff questionable cocktails, be Bear Aware and kick your way out of Canada’s frozen North with your mukluks on fire. Tragic, funny and bizarre, it’s all mostly true, she promises. The show also plays The Hawth, Crawley on February 8 at 7.45pm and Worthing’s Connaught Studio – in Jen’s adopted home town (“the best move I have ever made) – on April 28 at 8pm.

“It’s pretty cold in The Yukon. The day I left home it was 52 below zero Centigrade and I think the coldest place in the history of North America there was minus 63. And yet people live there. You pass the grocery store in the afternoon and the car park is full of cars with their engines running because you don’t turn your engine off or else your car will freeze. And none of them get stolen because there is nowhere to go!”

And there are parallels with the times that we have been through: “It is this idea of not being able to go out and to socialise for six months or however long the season is and then you go out and it is kind of chaos and carnage. The city I was in was 23, 000 or 24,000 people but the next big city which is Vancouver was a three-day drive south from there. It is not like going from Worthing to Chichester. It is like Worthing and then the next big city is somewhere in Morocco! And that has a real impact on people’s mentalities. It makes us all a little bit bonkers. And when everyone gets to go out for the first time in months they have things like the cabin fever festivals, huge festivals and celebrations of finally being allowed out. In the end I wanted to get out because of the drugs. If I had stayed, I don’t think I would have made it out. There is a coping strategy that a lot of people have like when you are unhappy and you’re trying not to face something that you don’t want to face. You don’t have any other outlets. For some people that can be good. They become painters or writers but for a lot of people it just feels so very insular and restrictive and the alcohol addiction rates are through the roof. The Yukon is the opioid fatality capital of Canada.”

Jen feared being sucked in: “If you stay too long you start to see the slippery slope the others have gone down. It’s self-preservation. You get out and a lot of friends of mine did the same. You have to get out or you know how it will end and we saw that happen to a lot of people that we knew. It is pretty tough.

“But the show itself is pure comedy. My co-writer was a real history buff and had lent me a book about five characters that have gone to the Yukon and lost their heart or their mind or their life. The show is about trying to unpick what makes people so fascinated by this place, and the book is a fascinating look at a lot of these characters. I had grown up hearing their names all the time but I didn’t engage because I was just not interested. I was just trying to get out at that time. And then I read this book 20 years after I had left and all of a sudden there was a light bulb moment and I was recognising elements of it all in myself. And for the first time this place that didn’t have too many fond memories for me, well, I just started to realise that a lot of the things that are in me now are because I grew up there.”