Review: 1979 (The 1979 Group)

Christopher Hunt as Pierre Trudeau and Philip Riccio as Joe ClarkTight, accessible politics in this engaging Toronto production

Michael Healey’s play, 1979, opened at the Berkeley Street Theatre on Thursday. As I wrote this, I realized that 1979 was 40 years ago. I know that, but I hadn’t really internalized it; to me it feels a lot more recent than that. I’m pretty sure that to a lot of the audience it feels like the olden days. Before the play started, I wondered how many of them would relate to the subject matter: Joe Clark’s short lived term as Prime Minister. Joe Who?

It doesn’t really matter. Political machinations are easy to recognize even if they’re 40 years old. It was great for the older crowd, a walk down a political memory lane. My friend Patricia has always been very involved in the community side of politics and I’ve always been a political observer. This is our kind of play. For younger people, it was terrific political satire.

There are three people in the cast; Philip Riccio as Joe Clark, Christopher Hunt who is billed as Actor A and Jamie Konchak, billed as Actor B. Actor A and Actor B because they both play multiple roles.

You don’t have to know who John Crosbie is to peg him as an old school pol, not completely adverse to a dirty trick or two if it means staying in power, but for me (and other ‘more mature’ audience members) it’s nice to know who Hunt is playing with such verve.

That’s taken care of by Scott Reid’s projection on the back of the stage. As a character comes into the office their name appears on the back wall — John Crosbie, Flora MacDonald, Allan Lawrence, Maureen McTeer, Pierre Trudeau, Steve (young Steven Harper), Stephen Harper, and possibly some I’ve missed. Back story and commentary and some very funny asides are also provided via the projection.

The performances are brilliant. Riccio’s Clark seems soft and gentle but really is made of steel. When he does briefly crack, it’s with the same single mindedness that he’s brought to passing the budget.

I also love Konchak’s Maureen McTeer. So late 70s bustle and feminism. So matter of fact. So pulled together thanks to Jennifer Lee Arsenault’s costume design. She was dressed in navy blue from head to toe, a skirt that was a bit longer than mid-calf and a but shorter than ankle length paired with a belted, long-sleeved top that buttoned to the neck, and navy shoes and bag. She definitely looked like the wife of a Prime Minister.

My favourite character is Hunt’s Pierre Trudeau. Teasing, threatening, bragging, musing, sometimes almost whispering in Joe’s ear, other times almost screaming at him. He moves around the stage strutting, then pacing, then walking. He sits in one chair and then moves to another, talking all the time. He was fabulous.

Director Miles Potter makes great use of Steve Lucas’s set with all of its cupboards in the paneling. There’s a door that could almost have come from a farce given the speed with which the actors exit as one character and enter as another.

Potter’s kept the action tight, the timing is perfect. There’s breathing space for laughter, something I always appreciate.

My favourite line in the play is Joe telling Steve that he believes his job is to “…act in the interest of the whole country whether they voted for me or not.”

Patricia and I both loved 1979. Patricia said she wished it didn’t have to end. (So did Joe Clark). We both recommend it highly. Go see it, you’ll laugh. Always a good thing in January.


  • 1979 is playing until January 27 at Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St)
  • Performances times – 8:00pm Tuesday through Saturday,  matinees Sundays and Saturday Jan, 19th at 2:00pm and Wednesday Jan. 23rd at 1:00pm
  • Ticket prices range from  $25 to $75 with discounts for Artworkers, Students, and Seniors
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-368-3110, or in person at the box office

Photo of Christopher Hunt and Philip Riccio by Dahlia Katz