The Canvas Barricade: The First Modern Play Performed at the Stratford Festival.


146 pages
ISBN 978-0-9688024-9-6
DDC C812'.54






Reviewed by Ian C. Nelson

Ian C. Nelson is Assistant Director of Libraries at the University of


Donald Jack was winner of Leacock Medals for humour in 1963, 1974, and 1980. Readers of this play—the first modern play performed at the Stratford Festival (in 1961)—may, therefore, deem it either appropriate or prophetic that his madcap playscript carries many of the trappings of an extended Air Farce sketch, complete with a pollster interlude that would be quite at home on “The Rick Mercer Report.” Home is where the humour is, and Jack’s play is replete with puns, other plays on words, funny accents, farcical chaos, and—above all—self-deprecating and self-referencing satire of the arts in Canada.


Home for this script is also Stratford, as is made obvious by the stage directions included that are precise to Tanya Moiseyevich’s famous stage geography: balcony, pillars vomitoria, and all. It is a pity, therefore, that the published text is not enhanced by photos of that initial (and only) production both as a record and as a reminder of such a historically significant element of recreated and modern stagecraft.


In its writing and humour the play itself is Canadian to the core: a mélange, or, dare one say, a dog’s breakfast. A trial scene smacks of Alice in Wonderland and several other moments skirt near the absurdist style of N.F. Simpson. In general, the playwright is neither as focused as George Walker nor as light as a Norm Foster, yet calls each of these to mind at certain turns. Some concerted social moralizing takes over in the last quarter of the play, perhaps to shake people who are “sick with indifference.” If that is intended to be the central theme, then it would be difficult not to consider the journey until then a rather inflated exposition.


The Canvas Barrier is an amusing curiosity, probably of more interest in the history of Canadian humour than the history of a Canadian theatre institution, but there are several passages of inspired schtick.


Jack, Donald., “The Canvas Barricade: The First Modern Play Performed at the Stratford Festival.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024,