In Review: 1979 (Theatre New Brunswick)

Category: stage 281

TNB’s season opener offers up a few things that are missing from our political environment these days – humour and respect.

Michelle Kars
Jeff Dingle (Joe Clark) and Sarah O’Brecht (Flora MacDonald) in TNB’s current production of 1979. Photo: Andre Reinders.

Theatre New Brunswick’s new Artistic Director Natasha MacLellan is doing things right. The company’s 2019-2020 season (MacLellan’s first official season) kicked off last week with a hilarious look at the world of Canadian politics. Straddling our current federal election cycle, TNB’s production of 1979 offers up a few things that are missing from our political environment these days – humour and respect.

Set inside the office of Prime Minister Joe Clark, just prior to the fall of his government, this poignant and very funny play imagines a series of fictional conversations between Clark and a who’s who of Canadian politics at the time. Everyone has an idea of what Clark should do and in this play, they’re practically lined up to offer guidance, good, bad or otherwise. 

1979 is a three-hander with actors Kevin Curran, Jeff Dingle and Sarah O’Brecht sharing the roles of ten characters. Dingle plays a perfect Joe Clark. His character is thoughtful and caring and willing to risk his entire political career is defense of his own moral code.  In his brown corduroy suit, he captures Clark’s comically dry wit and with the aid of Michael Healey’s clever script, is able to represent Canada’s then youngest Prime Minister with charming playfulness and dignity. But for Curran and O’Brecht, their characters are another story altogether.

Through the entire 80 minute performance, Curran and O’Brecht come in and out of Clark’s office sharing the roles of nine characters, most notably, Pierre Elliott Trudeau played by Curran, and Brian Mulroney played by O’Brecht. Their over the top caricatures, that also include Minister of Finance John Crosbie and Clark’s wife Maureen McTeer, provide lots of laughs while acting as the ideal contrast to the Clark’s steadfastness. 

Set entirely inside a beautifully designed PMO, the story is supported by projected text that explains characters and events related to the show, so you don’t have to be a full-blown political junkie or student of Canadian history to find the humour and follow the story. That said, the play may leave you wanting to brush up on your Canadian history on account of the many colourful characters included. In today’s world where the loudest (and often the most cringeworthy) voices are the ones we hear from the most, it’s nice to be reminded just how vast and diverse the players in this game of politics really often are. 

1979 continues this week at the Open Space Theatre before heading out on a tour of the province with shows in Bathurst, Saint John, Moncton, St. Andrews and Florenceville-Bristol.  

Regardless of where you stand in your political leanings, 1979 is a highly entertaining piece of Canadian theatre. Well done TNB. 

Directed by Natasha MacLellan
Featuring Kevin Curran, Jeff Dingle and Sarah O’Brecht.
Costume Design: Andrea Ritchie
Light Design: Ingrid Risk
Sound and Projection Design: Matt Carter
Set Design: Patricia Vinluan
Stage Manager: Kate Redding

Get your tickets HERE.

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