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“Great pains were taken to cast indigenous actors for many of the roles. Great care was taken to consult with Inuit designers and crafts people regarding props, costumes, makeup, dramaturgy and the language.
So in these tricky times of appropriation of stories, I hope respect will be paid to Colleen Murphy a white playwright, for taking on the task of creating this important story.”
“What War Horse did for horses, The Breathing Hole does for bears.
The central character of Colleen Murphy’s new play is Angu’juaq, a polar bear whose preternatural, not to say symbolic, existence stretches from 500 years in the past to 20 years in the future…
The production throughout is an audio-visual treat, what with Daniela Masselis’ set designs and Itai Erdai’s bright Northern lights and Carmen Braden’s soundscore. The final tableau, the previously immortal bear in an oil-drenched sea, is unforgettable. And though some of this may be put down to anthropomorphic sentimentality, it strikes deeper than that. There are plenty of plays that tell of climate change. This may be the first to find a way of showing it.”
The indelible message is that any consideration of the North must centre on climate change that’s melting the ice and has already altered the planetary ecosystem forever. Murphy directly and persuasively links these phenomena to European colonization and subsequent capitalist exploitation of the land.
At times these points are made unsubtly, particularly when it involves the flagstaff on which Franklin’s men hang the Union Jack. But in many other ways the play and production gently invite audiences to consider relations between native people, settlers and the natural world through perspectives that are novel — perhaps even a little revolutionary — in this bastion of European-based Canadian culture.
“By the end of the evening, we’re aware that Colleen Murphy’s remarkable play is making an ecological statement. But unlike The Madwoman Of Chaillot, another late-season Stratford offering with the environment on its mind, it radiates genuine heart when it comes to environmental matters.”
“While Murphy’s epic story in engaging in itself, it’s the costumes designs by Joanna Yu, Francesca Callow and Mary-Jo Carter Dodd, the mixture of natural and unnatural soundscapes by composer Carmen Braden, the beautiful minimalist sets designed by Daniela Masellis, and the sporadic use of Inuktitut dialogue between Inuit characters that has audience members believing they are on the ice with the characters onstage.”
“It’s tremendous to see the Stratford Festival throw its resources behind such an ambitious new work. Dozens of characters are played by 23 actors – including more Indigenous artists than have ever before been seen on a stage at the theatre company.
Director Reneltta Arluk’s production straddles styles and eras seamlessly and she elicits memorable performances from her cast that will not be soon forgotten – especially those of stand-outs Issaluk, Lauzon, Fleischer, Hughson and Miali Buscemi playing Inuit women from the past and the future.”