Review: The Life And Times Of Mackenzie King (VideoCabaret)

The Life & Times of Mackenzie King

The Life and Times of Mackenzie King is currently onstage at The Cameron in Toronto. It is the story of Canada in the two decades between the World Wars, “The Roaring Twenties” and “The Dirty Thirties.”

Written by Michael Hollingsworth,  The Life and Times of Mackenzie King premiered in 1993. It is a highly-acclaimed play, the winner of many prestigious awards and often described as “mind-blowing.”

As well as two decades, there are two main characters. Stratford veteran Paul Braunstein is exceptional as Mackenzie King. He is incredibly charismatic playing the psychic and prostitute-frequenting Prime Minister. At times he reminded me of Mike Myers.

Mac Fyfe does a great job as Joe Slomkovski. A WWI veteran, Joe experiences the Winnipeg General Strike, prohibition, riots, beatings, poverty, marches to Ottawa and relief camps. Food shortages become dire, and drastic measures are taken. Fyfe reminded us of another Canadian actor at times, Brendan Fraser.

The back room of The Cameron is a small and cozy space. It encourages the audience to interact with one another.  Smiles, ideas and jokes are shared throughout the room. It felt like a family gathering the night that we attended.

Experiencing VideoCabaret’s stagecraft is a unique experience. Part cartoon, part magic show and part LSD trip, scenes are often quite short. Music and lighting are used to enhance the experience. Six actors play at least fifty characters. Costumes are “hyper real.” The plot moves along quickly. It is a qualitative and qualitative experience for the audience, getting us thinking and raising our spirits.

Being staged in 2011, The Life and Times of Mackenzie King is more relevant and important than ever. Unstable governments resulting in too frequent elections, a collapsing economy, tent cities and storms brewing in Europe are just a few examples of history repeating itself.

The Life and Times of Mackenzie King is thought-provoking on a lot of different levels. Radio was the new medium in the twenties. Mackenzie King used séances and Ouija boards. The play uses techniques that are cutting-edge by today’s standards, let alone 1993’s. In less skilled hands, the play might come across like a barrage of Twitter feeds. Instead it is coherent, important and intoxicating.

That a play like this can be pulled off at all is remarkable. That it is so effective and entertaining is nothing short of extraordinary. Certainly kudos and congratulations are in order for all the talented and passionate people involved.

Four other exceptional actors round out the cast. They are Greg Campbell, Rick Alan Campbell, Jacob James and Linda Prystawska. Together with Andy Moro’s set and lighting, and Astrid Janson’s costumes, something very special has been created.

Attending this play reminded us of an old University professor who used to have office hours at a bar. Dr. King did that because it made students feel less intimidated and because he cared about us and was passionate about what he taught. We are better people because of Dr. King and better people for having experienced this fantastic play.

If there was anything we didn’t like about The Life and Times of Mackenzie King, it was realizing how ignorant we are of Canadian history. We didn’t like learning that about ourselves, but after the play, we were more informed and more inquisitive about our country’s past.

After seeing something like The Life and Times of Mackenzie King at The Cameron in Toronto, I’m reminded how fortunate I am. I am fortunate to have been born after the World Wars, after The Depression and fortunate to live in Toronto.

The Life and Times of Mackenzie King is a play I hope to see more than once. I do suggest that you get your tickets early, as sell-outs are frequent.


The Life and Times of Mackenzie King is playing at The Cameron House  408 Queen  Street W (just west of Spadina Ave)
– Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, Sunday matinee at 2:30pm
– Tickets: Tuesdays & Wednesdays $20
Thursdays & Sundays $30, Fridays $35, Saturdays $40
– Tickets are available through the box office at 416-703-1725 or at

Photo of the cast of The Life and Times of Mackenzie King by Michael Cooper