The David Haas Playwright Website - A Health Unto Her Majesty

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by David Haas

Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Accession to the Throne of Queen Elisabeth II
Morinville Festival St Jean Baptiste, 2012

Enthusiastic 1952 musician Serge Thibodeau (Brady Huges) describes the wonders of his new Fender Telecaster guitar while band musician Nicole Knechtel (Nicole Naughton) gets ready to spoof his air playing which she knows from experience will follow. Nicole (Naughton) invented this routine during rehearsals. It was so hilarious we kept it in.

It is late June, 1952. The young Queen Elizabeth succeeded to the throne less than five months earlier on the death of her father, King George VI.

The Mayor of Morinville has decided that the town’s annual St. Jean Baptiste Day celebration should feature a “Salute To Her Majesty” with speeches, a formal telegram being read out, and a patriotic pageant by the school children.

An organizing committee of three prominent local citizens has done all the necessary planning. But the day before the event, disaster threatens. The local band the organozers were counting on has pulled out to take a higher paying gig elsewhere that day. And the abrasive young seamstress cannot finish the pageant costumes, and no one will help.

What to do?

Plenty as it happens. There is a youthful new band in the town, and they are available if the committee decides to take them. And while the committee is examining this, a possible solution to the seamstress's lack of help emerges.

The play is garnished with historical references from the time to give it a period feel, while capturing some of the sentiment in Canada the death of a much admired monarch, and the accession to the throne of a young princess who had toured the country only few months before beginning her reign. I in fact remember seeing her when she came to Calgary on October 18, arriving at the Stampede Grounds for a rodeo in the midst of a snow squall. Then the following February I heard on radio the solemn announcement, "The King is dead, long live the Queen!"

A Health Unto Her Majesty is a warm memory for me. The play came about because the present day organizers of Monriville's annual Festival St Jean Baptiste, which honours the Franco-Albertan origins of the town north of Edmotnon, asked the town's Caviar Players for a play observing the commemoration of Queen Elisabeth II taking the throne sixty years earier. I was delighted when Caviar asked me, and in turn the troupe were happy with the warm hearted historical drama I wrote.

Caviar veteran Claudette DeBruijn drew on her prior directing experience to take the helm in this production, and did a fine job. Her enthusiasm for costume design was also put to good use. Claudette invited me to attend the rehearsals, so I had a chance to refine the writing as she got the show ready.

The play was staged three times over the Festival weekend. The first and last perfomrances were on stages at the Ray McDonald Sports Centre. But the second performance, Saturday morning immediately following the Opening Ceremonies at St. Jean Baptiste Park, was theatre absolutely in the round. A nice touch was this park was the very site where the committee gathered sixty years earlier to sort out their problem of getting the Salute to Her Majesty back on the rails!

The Fender Telecaster guitar and the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 car, iconic for 1952, featured in the script but not (alas) on stage.

The play ended with a rousing finale in which the cast lined up and sang a Queen specific version of the patriotic toasting song from the reign of King Charles II which gives the play its title. The toast was drunk from Alberta pop bottles from the play's era. Also correct for that period are the two poddle skirts.

Left to right are Paige Brenneis, Rory Turner, Margie van der Horden, Landan Hughes, Stephanie Hemmings, Brady Hughes, Nicole Naughton, and myself. I was asked to come on stage for the finale to supply musical accompaniment, and dressed as a cowboy minstrel - western music being very big in 1952.