Shadow Theatre brings back a Canadian classic that commemorates a landmark event in our country's theatre history
By Cory Schachtel | January 17, 2024
In 1972, when Canada’s theatre scene was still in its infancy, a group of playwrights went into the Ontario countryside to live with farmers in order to tell their stories. The resulting “collective creation” was turned into The Farm Show by Ted Johns, and became a seminal signpost in Canadian theatre history.
It had a big impact on Michael Healy, who in 2002 said “The Farm Show showed that we Canadians could tell our own stories. It was a turning point for the creation of an Indigenous theatre. Before that, everything was influenced by British or American theatre….I’m a beneficiary of that. My plays are workshopped, put on, because of what they started.”
Healy’s 1999 play, The Drawer Boy, tells the story of a self-absorbed city actor who goes to live with a pair of aging farmers, Morgan and Angus, to research a role in a play about country life. The farmers are former Second World War soldiers, with lost loves from England — but Angus has brain damage from the war, and Morgan has been less than honest with him about their shared story, which Angus misremembers. Miles, the young actor, discovers this, and an amusing fish-out-of-water story becomes a tale of truths and lies, love and tragedy, that changes all the characters’ lives.
“These farmers have a story that unfolds, and what I love about it is that, in life as in theatre, seemingly simple, unassuming people can have extraordinary inner lives that you have no idea about,” says Shadow Theatre Artistic Director John Hudson, who brought back the play to Edmonton for the company’s second show of the season.
“Although there’s a tremendous amount of humour in the play, and everything goes to a really deep and satisfying place, the revelations come quickly, and require big shifts from the cast,” says Hudson, who’s wanted to bring the play back ever since he saw its original Edmonton run in 2000.
“I’ve loved this play for a long time. And I just felt on our 30th anniversary, and with its connection to Canadian theatre history, the time was right for this story. We pride ourselves not only on producing new work, but trying to give valuable second and third productions from Canadian playwrights. I always want an audience to be moved and informed — our mandate is theatre that hits people’s hearts, and opens their minds.”