Cold Comfort


94 pages
ISBN 0-88922-201-0






Reviewed by Terry Goldie

Terry Goldie is an associate professor of English at York University and
author of Fear and Temptation.


Jim Garrard’s play Cold Comfort has received high praise from a variety of critical sources. The blurb on the back of the published script quotes some of them, including the words of Gina Mallet. Critic for the Toronto Star, Mallet is renowned in the Canadian theatre community for her harsh and unflinching reactions to plays which she deems less than worthy. So when she is quoted as saying, “A remarkable achievement ... a solid and memorable show,” one must take notice.

But part of that notice must be a recognition that she said, “show.” And one cannot evaluate the “show” from a written script. Especially in this case. Garrard’s stage notes show that he is after very specific things in performance. For example, he states, “The acting should be simple but detailed.” What this means I am not at all sure. In performance, I would probably feel otherwise.

One could probably term Cold Comfort a black comedy, although the humorous part of the comedy is understated and the terror of the black is quite strong. It follows in the tradition of the unsuspecting “normal” person who is captured in an out-of-the-way place by weird, almost at times other-worldly people. It’s a theme seen often in many genres, from John Fowles’ The Collector to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Here it is a very cultivated travelling salesman who gets lost in a snowstorm, which leads to his being saved by a mechanic who brings him home to act as his daughter’s sexual plaything. And so it goes.

One of the best ways of evaluating such a piece is to say whether it adds to the other examples of the theme. For me, I’d have to say it doesn’t. I am not as concerned for the victim, as horrified by the villain, or as intrigued by the intermediary, the daughter (who, like Frankenstein’s monster, is both the villain’s agent and another victim).

So much obviously depends on performance. Recently we have seen a turn away from overly literary plays to plays with a real sense of theatre. They depend less on word play than on pause, action, and various aspects of visual presentation. Cold Comfort is such an obvious example that it seems almost inevitable that it should seem dead on the page. This should no doubt be treated as an acting script rather than something for reading by the fireside.


Garrard, Jim, “Cold Comfort,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 19, 2024,