At a time when Canada is being positioned as a blissful alternative to the political tumult south of its borders or across the pond, Finborough Theatre is producing Michael Healey’s Proud. As Healey points out, Canada has not always been governed by a panda-loving, social-media-acclaimed hunk. It had its own long-standing conservative and controversial regime from 2006-2015 under Prime Minister Stephen Harper – a leader who, amongst other things, enacted significant press restrictions in the parliament buildings; abandoned Canada’s long-form census (a wealth of statistical data used by academics and statisticians alike); and vowed to reform the senate. Healey’s Proud, first performed in 2011, is a satirical and critical piece on the previous Canadian political administration. Yet it also raises questions about political leadership, trust, and the nature of the fuel which powers politics.
In Healey’s fictional 2011, a thinly veiled Harper, referred to only as ‘Prime Minister’ (Nicholas Cass-Beggs), wakes to a resounding Reagan-like victory in 2011: the Conservative Party of Canada has painted the northern map almost entirely blue. The Prime Minister, along with his Chief-of-Staff Cary Baines (Jude Monk McGowan), and an unlikely Member of Parliament, Jisbella Lyth (Emily Head), set forth to manipulate the Canadian media and obfuscate their true political ambitions.
While the acting is respectable and the accent work commendable, Healey doesn’t offer much up in depth of character. A socially awkward PM and a single-parent MP create most of the dramatic (and sometimes sexual) tension. Cass-Beggs portrays an astoundingly nerdy and uncomfortable Prime Minister, one who really only feels comfortable in his own head. Conversely, Head’s Jisbella Lyth is confident and assured in her actions. McGowan’s Chief-of-Staff is refined, handsome, and unmoving.
They play their roles well, and acutely present the unique nature and rhythm of the Canadian political sphere. But the characters are ultimately vessels for ideas. The play hits its intellectual stride later in a sort of political theory lecture from the PM to Jisbella. Beliefs in Healey’s world are a product of power, and politics is a fundamentally emotional event. Voters are classified as emotional types — ‘Jenny, Dougie, Clive’ — and then either targeted or rebuked. Platforms are malleable to the emotional will of the people, as are facts. Healey reflects back an unsettlingly accurate representation of contemporary politics in the run-up to the American election. It’s a mealy, cerebral, ideas-led play, with humour infused only by the relationships of the characters.
Although not particularly theatrical, with most of the action taking place in the Prime Minister’s office, Healey’s play does offer scenes from a futuristic Canada spliced throughout. Jisbella’s son, Jake (Will Firth), is running for a seat in parliament as an independent and is being interviewed. If Healey treats his plays as a Hegelian dialectic, then Jake is a synthesis of his mother’s ambition and shrewdness, and the PM’s intelligence. Yet his ideas of what Canada is, or should be, are markedly different, and gesture towards a vision of Canada that is in some ways strikingly similar to Trudeau’s.
While Proud‘s source material might feel distant to a London audience, its themes are directly relevant, even pressing, to the political moment in which we find ourselves. It’s an investigation of national identity, what makes Canadians proud to be Canadian, and what should a government do for its people. Perhaps not a visionary theatrical experience, Healey’s Proud is comprehensive in its analysis and prescient in its imaginings.
Proud is on until 2nd August 2016. Click here for more information.