Long, long ago when I first arrived in Ottawa as a young public servant I discovered a tremendously valuable guidebook to the byways of the nation’s capital and the political specimens to be found therein. My bible was the British satirical series Yes, Minister and its successor, Yes, Prime Minister. Political science treatises were offered to viewers disguised as witty banter, but the simple truth was that the show did indeed show how politics worked.
So it is with the opening show of the season for the Great Canadian Theatre Company with Proud by Michael Healey. For the political junkie in me, the characters’ explanations of sometimes savage political truths is like mother’s milk – and I suspect this is true for quite a large number of audience members at GCTC as well. The piece is clearly fiction and clearly satire, so I’m frankly puzzled by the tempest in Toronto last year in which the Tarragon Theatre declined to produce the show. If anything, in many respects the play offers a sympathetic portrayal of an all-controlling but unnamed Prime Minister Stephen Harper (played by Healey himself).
Unlike Yes, Prime Minister, in which the crafty bureaucrats run rings around the slightly dotty PM, in Healey’s play it’s the PM who lectures to a newly elected backbencher. Jenny Young offers a tour-de-force performance as the dotty Jisbella Lyth who echoes George W. Bush in challenging and surprising those who “misunderestimate” her.
There are plenty of winking nods to contemporary Canadian politics that earned hoots of laughter from the audience, but these will become obscure as time goes by. But the characters’ analyses of why they do the things they do are timeless and I’d heartily recommend them as a worthy complement to Yes, Prime Minister to the next generation of public servants for study.