WHATSON Mar 08, 2019 by Victoria Curran – Richmond Hill Liberal
Thomson is pictured playing a Cub Scout (circled) in a still from the 1957 play The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker with his older sister Janet (on the right). – The Curtain Club Archives
The Curtain Club’s history in Richmond Hill dates back to 1954—65 seasons of producing live plays—when a group of 25 residents got together to found a thriving community theatre. Cicely Thomson was one of those original founders. That’s why we’re particularly pleased and excited that her son, actor RH (Robert Holmes) Thomson, has agreed to be honorary chair of the 2019 Theatre Ontario Festival, a week of award-winning plays coming to our town May 15 to 18, and hosted by the Curtain Club.
RH Thomson, of course, is not only famous for being Cicely’s youngest son, he’s also a renowned theatre, film and TV professional, a recipient of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, a member of the Order of Canada and currently starring as Matthew Cuthbert in Anne with an E, which is televised in more than 150 countries and starts shooting season three in early March. But it was Cicely who first put Thomson in a show, at none other than the Curtain Club, years before we’d moved into our current space at the corner of Elgin Mills and Newkirk.
“Yep,” says Thomson, “and David Lewis was in it. Our neighbor. Everybody was in it! The Curtain Club used to rehearse sometimes at our house. Before this show, they’re all in the basement rehearsing this thing, and small children wander downstairs, jaws a-kimbo, they watch. That was me. So I would watch productions that my mother was directing. I guess that was my exposure.”
Thomson only had one opportunity to act with his mother, when she was cast as—ironically—his mother in the 1988 TV movie Glory Enough for All, in which he played Frederick Banting, working with Charles Best to discover insulin.
“Mother was one of those intelligent women who probably, had it been a different age, in a different relationship between the role of men and the role of women, probably would have gone into the theatre. But because of the era, the time, the patriarchy, they didn’t.”
A father of two adult sons who chose not to follow in their father’s or grandmother’s footsteps (to his relief: “The job of a parent is to dissuade their children from going into the arts”), Thomson is a passionate advocate of the arts and finding a balance between art and industry. The balance between entertaining and challenging audiences. And he refuses to be discouraged by how difficult it is to fund risk-taking plays that can’t guarantee a full house because they don’t unfold in traditional storytelling formats. That includes the most recent play he was in, The Message by Jason Sherman about Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan, which debuted at The Tarragon Theatre in December 2018.
“The purpose of art is to reveal something,” he insists, “to get you asking questions about you and the outside world. It can be tiny questions, it can be great big questions. Most theatre lovers will tell you of a production where they got hooked on theatre. Yes, I saw that and I’ll never forget that. Because that changed something in them.”
When asked why he agreed to be honorary chair of this year’s Theatre Ontario Festival, Thomson replied: “Come on, community theatre is totally important. I mean the roots of theatre are in the community and in the audiences, so investing back in community theatre is so important.”
Don’t miss the rare opportunity to see an excellent week of award-winning theatre this May, right here in the GTA, produced by local regional talent from all four corners of the province.
—Victoria Curran is a member of the The Curtain Club
Originally posted in the Richmond Hill Liberal on March 8, 2019