1979 ★★ Finborough Theatre | January 2 - 27, 2024

1979 is billed as a comedy, but it really serves as a primer on Canadian politics from the eponymous date. It also acts as a text reviewing the nature and compromises of politics in general. The starting point for this exploration of principle, opportunism and ideology in the political sphere is the budget crisis experienced by the short-lived government of Prime Minister Joe Clark in 1979. The question is: will Clark stand by his principles and lose the budget vote, thus also losing his premiership, or will he choose expediency and political trickery to retain power. It is a not uninteresting political dilemma faced by all politicians. However, the problem in 1979 is that the audience develops no emotional investment in either the people or the issue before we are immersed in the situation. Unfortunately, the cast of characters is generally underdeveloped, and there is never any real reason to care about them. As for Clark himself, played by Joseph May, he never manages to garner much empathy for his predicament. On the other hand, the political question is explored in an almost allegorical fashion with former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau being presented as a parody of political opportunism, and future Prime Minister Stephen Harper exposed as an unsympathetic right-wing ideologue. Ineffective man of integrity, Joe Clark, is passively caught between the two. The dialogues between Trudeau and Clark, and then Harper and Clark, are interesting riffs on the dilemmas of politics but they are far from realistic, and more than a little didactic. Linking these themes to a somewhat obscure event in political history, covering a considerable time frame and introducing a series of barely sketched-in characters leads to an extensive and cumbersome reliance on video projections which identify who people are and what is happening, or will happen. Continuity and involvement are also not helped when one character (for no apparent reason, other than expediency) is played by two different actors of different genders. While 1979 takes on some big issues and explores some interesting political questions, it lacks the dramatic elements necessary to make them truly engaging.

Rated: ★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Siomon Annand

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