1979: A clear demonstration of the entertainment value of Canadian politics

Reviewed by Iris Winston

1979 by Michael Healey GCTC/Shaw Festival co-production  Directed by Eric Coates

Principles are just part of the equation on the road to success in political life. Also pertinent are viable policies, cunning, surface charm and a willingness to change course, step away from principles, promises and even integrity to stay in power. (The old dictum of the Ins wanting to stay in and the Outs wanting to get in by almost any means has not changed much over the centuries.)

But, to Joe Clark, Canada’s 16th and youngest Prime Minister, principle and integrity were more important than power. Therefore, he remained in the PM’s chair for just nine months.

At first glance, such a sad comment on the fate of an honest man in politics hardly seems the raw material for a witty, fast-moving satirical comedy. Yet, in the hands of playwright Michael Healey — also the author of political satires Proud and Plan B — this is just what 1979 becomes.

As the PM waits in his office a few hours before the Progressive Conservative budget is to be presented and probably defeated — in part because of a proposed hefty increase in the gasoline tax — assorted advisors try to persuade him to delay the vote.

As delivered by director Eric Coates, the trio on stage and the fourth ‘character’ in the form of the verbal comedy played out on back projections, the rapid fire of 1979 is highly entertaining. In addition to the wit and wisdom of the words spoken in conjunction with the facts and figures on the screen, there is the joy of the contrast between the deliberate moves of Sanjay Talwar as Clark and the other two performers ( Marion Day and Kelly Wong) whirling around at double time as John Crosbie, Flora MacDonald, Pierre Elliott Trudeau (a particularly funny caricature), Brian Mulroney, Maureen McTeer, a young and earnest Stephen Harper and even Jenni Byrne for a short time.

There are occasional odd moments in the show. Why, for instance, must Clark hide his shoes under the carpet and his tie in the stereo after taking off his brown corduroy suit? For that matter, why must he strip off the brown corduroy suit, even if it has been a source of derision by others? And why does the script call for the music from said stereo to be so very loud? The play is so strong that it is sad to miss even a few words because they are overwhelmed by the carefully selected 70s music at full decibel level.

But these are minor quibbles. Simply put, this co-production of 1979 by GCTC and the Shaw Festival is a delight, tailor-made for Canadian political junkies.

1979 continues at GCTC to April 30.

Director: Eric Coates

Set, lighting and projections: Steve Lucas

Original music and sound: Keith Thomas

Costumes: Jennifer Goodman

Cast:

The Prime Minister………………..Sanjay Talwar

Actor A…………………………….Marion Day

Actor B…………………………….Kelly Wong


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