face it. When all is said and done the most important thing about any
play is not the theatre it is in, it's not the scenery, it's not actors
or the director. It is the writer. It is the content."
Nurse Jane Goes To Hawaii is the fourth play in the Grand's 100th anniversary season. Written by former Londoner Allan Stratton, it's one of many Canadian plays that have appeared at the Grand.
In the spring of 1936 the Grand Theatre entered 25 Cents, an obscure Canadian play, into the Dominion Drama Festival - the yardstick for theatrical excellence in Canada.
"It was the first time and the only time that a bona fida Canadian-written play, directed by an amateur director and played by an amateur cast and played by an amateur cast ever absolutely won the works," recalled the play's director, Catharine Brickenden.
The success of 25 Cents unleashed a wave of original plays by Canadian authors about Canadian stories on the Grand's stage. The first full-length work was 1938's Here Will I Nest, written by Hilda Mary Hooke and starring her husband. Three years later it was filmed as Canada's first feature-length colour movie
In 1939, the Studio Club was founded to present alternative and experimental theatre. Over the next ten years, it debuted nine works by local authors.
The 1970s marked the next great wave of plays by local authors. The Donnellys by Peter Colley was the first play to deal with the most infamous mass murders in Canadian history. And an adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's The Collected Works of Billy the Kid proved to be the most controversial play in the Grand's history.
"I'm totally proud of that production. I think it was one of the finest, exciting theatrical events that hit London - except I misread our audience at the time," says former artistic director Heinar Piller. "When they finally capture Billy the Kid they drag him on horseback three days through the desert…and he goes crazy, the sun and the heat and he has this horrific monologue, he just goes on ranting and raving and finishes up at the end, screaming, at the top of his lungs, "I'VE BEEN F***ED BY CHRIST!" and the whole balcony walked out."
Billy the Kid cost the Grand 2,000 subscribers, pointing the way to more benign Canadian works like Billy Bishop Goes to War and a string of Norm Foster Comedies. But local works have become a regular part of the Grand's alternate play space: The McManus Theatre.
"You can't just have people parachuting in shows and going off and Londoners are expecting to clap their hands and pay for tickets and that's it," says Jeff Culbert, the artistic director of Ausable Theatre. "You want to be able the whole theatre scene and you do that by encouraging the activity that's already there."
For more information on local plays from London's past and present, be sure to visit Theatre in London.