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Says Douglas (left), at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage with Helen Lawrence co-creator Haddock: ‘It’s a huge puzzle, really kind of brain-melting.’ (Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak)
Says Douglas (left), at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage with Helen Lawrence co-creator Haddock: ‘It’s a huge puzzle, really kind of brain-melting.’ (Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak)

It’s a 3-D movie. It’s a film-noir play. It’s a great big, fingers-crossed experiment Add to ...

Still, the collaborators insist the whiz-bang technology does not steal the show. “It’s in your face, but it’s not intrusive. The technology doesn’t say, ‘Hey I’m technology; be impressed by me.’ It’s only in service to the story.”

While the archival floor plans and photographs were integral in designing the show, a huge resource in writing the script were transcripts from the 1955-56 Tupper Inquiry. It investigated corruption on the Vancouver police force – in particular on the part of its chief, Walter Mulligan, who promised a tough-on-crime approach, but was ultimately revealed to be collecting protection money from the very joints his force was supposed to be cracking down on. In the midst of the inquiry, Mulligan resigned – and then fled to the U.S. The city portrayed in the detailed testimony of the inquiry helped Haddock bring 1948 Vancouver to life.

There’s been another challenge in mounting the ambitious production: Until last summer, Kim Collier, one of the leading figures in Canadian theatre, was co-directing alongside Douglas, and deeply involved in developing the production. But last summer, the Siminovitch Prize-winning stage veteran left the project. “I had concerns about how the script was coming together in relation to the conceptualization of the piece and the form it would take,” she told The Globe and Mail this week. “I suggested a process that would make me more comfortable moving forward, and at that point the project decided to move forward without me.”

Without Collier’s theatre expertise – a founding member of the renowned Electric Company Theatre, she has extensive experience with multimedia work, including Studies in Motion and Tear the Curtain! – and her steady hand in direction, Douglas has leaned on Sarah Garton Stanley, associate artistic director of English Theatre at the National Arts Centre, who is serving as the associate director for Helen Lawrence.

Despite all the challenges – digital and otherwise – the visual artist and the TV veteran behind this unconventional theatre production projected utter calm a couple of weeks ahead of its world premiere – at least on their exterior scrims. “The overwhelming kind of language is that of film,” says Haddock, leaning back in his chair. “But it’s got the terror-inducing anxiety of live performance.”

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