Soulpepper’s John Eh? Larger than life Reply

Review by Judith Robinson

Michael Hollingworth’s, play, Confederation & Riel, paints a portrait of Sir John A. Macdonald never before seen on a Canadian stage. While the founding father’s foibles are infamously familiar, actor Richard Clarkin leaves the stereotyped caricature far behind, and guides the Prime Minister into the territory of a brilliant, scheming statesman.
In this VideoCabaret/Soulpepper production, Macdonald’s every gesture, comment, and excess mannerism, becomes infinitely believable. It is not difficult to accept that in Macdonald’s winks and jokes, a confederacy was initiated. Equally skillful is Linda Prystawska’s portrayal of nine characters, male and female, young and old, from Macdonald’s wife, to a revolutionary Fenian, to Sir Alexander Galt.

She seamlessly moves in and out of each persona, transforming herself from one to another with deft defying dexterity.
            Michaela Washburn also did a marvelous job of portraying the innocence and naiveté of Louis Riel and Jamie Cavanagh effectively conveyed the intellectual brooding and philosophizing of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Costume designers, Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill and lighting designer, Andrew Dollar, deserve great credit for brightening up a challenging, fast-paced production. The settings were quickly transformed with lights, fabrics and colours—each creating a precise atmosphere and mood. The audience members were never left wondering where they were or what they were supposed to derive from a particular scene.
Hollingsworth did a great job of tying it all together as director. Every moment was clearly highlighted and defined with a magical touch. The playwright/director clearly has the ability to make dreary details seem extraordinary. Although many plays have been mounted in Hollingsworth’s 21 cycle History of the Village of the Small Huts series—this one connects to something deeper. In Confederation & Riel, the playwright is tapping into the lifeblood of what keeps this country together—the Macdonald ingenuity, let’s make a deal mentality and ability to tie differing strands together in a way that works on a practical level.

Confederation & Riel has something important to say to every Canadian. Book your tickets early as shows are selling out. It’s up until August 19th at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. Confederation Part II will be mounted within the next few weeks.