THE JUDGEMENT OF SLIPPERY JACK
I was approached by John Gerry on behalf of the Port Stanley Summer Theatre to write a stage adaptation of E.J. Pratt’s ‘The Titanic’ to mark the 75th anniversary of the first and final voyage of that not so unsinkable ship. I dutifully grappled with Pratt’s poem, trying to summon up sufficient enthusiasm to see me through the months of rewrites and tinkering such a project would require but had to admit that while the story was undeniably gripping, it failed to engage me at my deepest level of fascination.
“On the first snowy night that December, I went to a meeting with John and the composer whose pitiable task it would’ve been to write fetching tunes about the death by drowning of 1500 passengers (‘Lifeboats and dinghies and airplanes with wings; these are a few of my favourite things’) and confessed that my enthusiasm for ‘The Titanic’ had sunk without a trace. As a consolation, or perhaps a gesture to save face, I took along with me Archie Bremner’s ‘Illustrated History of London, Canada’ which had first been published in 1897 and explained that on page 59 of that book there was a single, enigmatic paragraph which had haunted and intrigued me for at least 15 years, and that if they were prepared to change subjects and gears, I knew I could develop a script on this particular material. ‘Read us the paragraph,’ they said.
“‘The police force of 1867 was greatly exercised – as was the whole city – over the criminal pranks of a man called, for want of a better or more accurate name, ‘Slippery Jack’. His practice was to gain entrance to the sleeping apartments of women – sometimes three and four in a night – and awaken the sleeping inmates by tickling their feet. He was never caught, though often seen, and several times shot at.’
“‘Let me see if I’ve got this right,’ said Gerry. ‘You’re turning down an opportunity to write a play utilizing the words of Canada’s greatest narrative poet and exploring a theme of universal resonance so you can produce some squalid two-act farce about a local pervert who nobody’s even heard of?’
“‘Yes,’ I agreed. ‘That’s about the size of it.’” - Herman Goodden
“An entertaining and thoughtful play whose author gives a serious problem a hilarious comic treatment.”
– James Reaney Sr. London Free Press
“A labored, long-winded, unfunny flapdoodle.”
– Doug Bale, London Free Press