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Modern Theatre in Context: A Critical Timeline

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Quebec City as shown in 'The Seats of the Mighty': saving the hero from firing squad

Chosen by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree to open his magnificent new London theatre: Her Majesty's (flatteringly named for the monarch), the premiere of The Seats of the Mighty formed a highlight of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. This was the first time a script by a Canadian author - and publicly acknowledged as being such - was performed in London. It may possibly also have been the first time Canada itself was represented on the British stage; and a real effort was made to produce a historical accurate impression of Quebec City (complete with snow).

At the same time, while the original novel offers a detailed and fairly nuanced picture of social life in the Colony, the play version - adapted by Gilbert Parker himself - substitutes spectacle and emphasizes the melodrama that, while certainly present in the novel, here overwhelms both the characterization and the historical context.

As such the play is unintentionally revealing. Both as an illustration of the type of nineteenth-century play so often toured through Canada by visiting companies (and therefore of the sort of cultural perspective promoted by the Empire), but also as an indication of the way Canada - and particularly French Canada - was customarily viewed in Britain at the height of the colonial era.

Jacob Gordin's The Jewish King Lear, the first Yiddish play to be staged in Montreal, is performed at the Monument-National. It joins other earlier "firsts": notably the first produced plays to be written in English and French by native-born Canadians. These respectively being, Fitzallen, A Melo Drama by a Halifax Native who may or may not have been William Rufus Blake, presented at the Halifax Theatre in 1833 – and Griphon ou le vengeance d'un valet, by Pierre Petitclair, produced in Quebec City in 1837.