Of all the parts she played in her brief time as an actress during the late 1960s, the
part my mother remembers most fondly is one she never got to perform – the role of
Richard III’s hump in Theatre Passe Muraille’s production of Richard III. The production
was conceived of more than twenty years before I was born, and I’ve never seen video
recordings, photographs, or even a review of the piece. In fact, the play was cancelled for
financial reasons before it was ever performed. Despite this, for me, my mother’s role in
the 1969 vision of Richard III represents a fascinating, and humorous, moment in which
Shakespeare and my own Canadian history come together. More than this, the failed
production, rehearsed at the Theatre Passe Muraille during the early days of Toronto’s
experimental theatre scene, is representative of a significant change in attitude toward
Shakespeare, towards Britain, and towards what a “Canadian Shakespeare” or even a
“Canadian theatre” meant and could mean.
In 1969, the Theatre Passe Muraille was based in the Church of the Holy Trinity –
a traditionally liberal church tucked between the towers of the Eaton centre in the heart of
downtown Toronto. Twenty-five years later, when I was eight, I would go to the same
church for a summer camp offered by a non-profit arts organization run by my mother,
who had long since given up acting. I would play theatre games on the same courtyard
stones. In 1969, however, my mother and the forty-odd members of the Theatre Passe
Muraille had just moved in, and the church was just becoming one of the most important
centres for alternative theatre in Canada.
The Theatre Passe...
... middle of paper ...
idea of “The Bard” as the ultimate symbol of British, and therefore legitimate, culture. As
my mother said, “you want to free yourself from your colonial roots, and the way to do
that is to do contemporary, immediate theatre.” The Theatre Passe Muraille adaptation
was not an attempt to embrace the canonic Shakespeare as a symbol of imperial culture,
but an attempt to express something immediate and Canadian using England’s greatest
Johnston, Denis W. Up the Mainstream: The Rise of Toronto’s Alternative Theatres,
1968-1975. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.
Daniel Fischlin and Mark Fortier. “General Introduction.” Adaptations of Shakespeare.
Eds. Daniel Fischlin and Mark Fortier. London: Routledge, 2000. 1-22.
Press Release. Theatre Passe Muraille. 1969.
Shakespeare, William. Richard III. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.
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