No Big Deal!


136 pages
ISBN 0-920428-39-8





Translated by David Homel
Reviewed by Renate Usmiani

Renate Usmiani was Professor of English at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax.


No Big Deal! is a collective creation produced by the Theatre Group of Archambault, a Quebec maximum security prison. The work was sparked by the 1976 strike of the 400 inmates to gain negotiating rights. The success of the strike left prisoners with a new sense of pride and solidarity, as well as a need for self-expression, in hopes that “This book — this samizdat, en du coeur, underground work — will spark in its readers some of the same devouring fire roaring in the soul of its authors ....” In a series of eight loosely connected scenes, the authors present their view of the alienating, oppressive, and ultimately dehumanizing effect of prison life.

The book consists of a Preface, which gives an inmate’s view of Archambault; a Foreword, providing the arduous production history; an Introduction, in which the Theatre Group presents its own view of the work; and finally the play itself.

Although the authors describe their work as “Just awkward, naive attempts,” the play in fact attains a remarkably high level of sophistication, especially in its use of non-realistic, theatrical techniques. These include an epic structure, Brechtian use of song, much symbolism, and the use of masks, stylized movement, and a chorus to underline depersonalization. The one serious flaw in the work is an understandable one: oversimplification in character portrayal. Prisoners are idealized (especially “1568,” the one individualized inmate of the play), guards and prison administrators are grotesquely caricatured. However, such black-and-white presentation must be expected from a work which defines itself expressionistically as “a scream disguised as a play.”


Archambault Theatre Group, “No Big Deal!,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 19, 2024,