In recent years, Mackenzie King’s interest in spiritualism has become somewhat notorious. Theatre group Video Cabaret’s show, The Life and Times of Mackenzie King follows events in Canadian history between the First and Second World Wars, and creates what participating actor Richard Alan Campbell calls an “irreverent black comedy version of Canadian history” with “characters larger than life.” It is a part of a cycle of Canadian history plays written by Michael Hollingsworth.

The show depicts true events, but Campbell notes that deconstructing the heroic edifice built up around Mackenzie King is part of its ambition. “King wasn’t necessarily a great guy. At the very least, he was a super-bizarre man,” says Campbell. The stranger aspects of King’s personality -- like using fortune-tellers and séances to connect with the spirits of his dead mother and various pet dogs for policy advice --were almost entirely unknown during his time as prime minister.

Video Cabaret also tries to connect history to the present. Much of the play takes place during the Great Depression, which brings up problems and issues that resonate with contemporary audiences. Campbell recalls the the timeliness of several other productions. “Last year was our play about the Great War, and Afghanistan was happening; when we did the Saskatchewan Rebellion some First Nations issues were happening; and the Canadian Pacific Scandal play was at the same time as AdScam.”

Another interesting element of the troupe is their style of presentation. Taking cues from the European theatre style known as “black box,” performers act on a completely black stage, in a theatre that is dark except for spotlights on the performers. White face makeup, specially designed costumes, and what Campbell refers to as “lightning fast” changes (six actors play almost forty roles) in costume and scene give the illusion of watching a film, though no video media is used in production. For performers, the method creates a very hectic backstage experience but for the viewer, the effect is “indistinguishable from magic.” says Campbell.

The Life and Times of Mackenzie King begins its run on Nov. 10 at Cameron House at Queen and Spadina.

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: In Conversation with Richard Alan Campbell of Video Cabaret
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