This summer, 4th Line Theatre is bringing back Alex Poch-Goldin’s hit comedy, The Bad Luck Bank Robbers, based on the August 1961 robbery of the Toronto-Dominion Bank in Havelock, Ont.
The play follows four Québécois thieves who staked out the bank for two years and got away with $250,000, at the time the largest single-day bank robbery in Ontario. Making their escape, they drove in the direction of the Canadian Shield. On the way, their getaway car was damaged, and unable to reach a second car, they got stuck in the woods for five days, pelted by rain and bitten by insects. Vigilantes and posses eventually found them and they were arrested.
The loot – securities and bills that to this day remain uncirculated – was never found, and with several theories about what happened to the money, it’s become the stuff of local legend. “People have gone out to look for the money. It’s certainly folkloric at this point,” Poch-Goldin said.
He was intrigued by the story and he recognized the opportunities for comedy. “We did a bunch of workshops and had some wonderful actors, and I have to say I’ve never worked on a funnier play,” he said.
The play is based on Poch-Goldin’s archival research, interviews he conducted and testimonials from people who had an association with the robbery.
After reading Grace Barker’s 2006 book about the heist, also called The Bad Luck Bank Robbers, Poch-Goldin headed to the Archives of Ontario, where he found documents relating to the robbery – police reports, affidavits, newspaper clippings and a trial transcript. “I found a treasure-trove of information, and that forms 99 per cent of the basis of this project, aside from my imagination,” he said.
In the process of bringing history to life – “an opportunity to meet some of the real people and to tell their stories,” Poch-Goldin said – he went to a “reminiscence” for people who had an association with the robbery. Attended by three of the bank tellers who’d worked that day, the event brought out about 50 people, some of whom came forward to give testimonials.
For the tellers, “it was a harrowing day in their lives,” Poch-Goldin said, and they wanted to share their stories and their insights.
He spent time with one of the tellers, Jean Kennedy, talking to her at her rest home in Norwood, Ont. “She gave me stories – she didn’t have a lot to tell – but I got to know her a little bit and she became one of the main characters in the play,” Poch-Goldin said.
Excited about being in a play, she was upset when work on the script, begun in 2010, ceased for two years due to copyright issues.
“I think the event really shook her up, but it was also a watershed event in her mind, as it was for other people,” he said.
Kennedy died before the play premiered at 4th Line Theatre last summer. “It made me sad,” Poch-Goldin. The show went on to sell out for its four-week run.
As a subplot, the play pits French against English, Catholic against Protestant and the Montreal Canadiens against Toronto Maple Leafs. “The opposites playing against each other is a great source of comedy,” Poch-Goldin said. A native Montrealer who makes his home in Toronto, he said he managed to rile fans of both teams.
The Bad Luck Bank Robbers is staged outdoors in a field and on a barnyard stage, and includes a cast of 28, including professional actors and volunteers from the community.
“The acting chops are quite impressive. They [4th Line Theatre] do workshops and work with the actors,” Poch-Goldin said. “It’s really a community experience.”
CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition will be making a documentary about the show, as two of the robbers’ sons will be attending a performance this summer.
For tickets to The Bad Luck Bank Robbers, at 4th Line Theatre in Millbrook, Ont., from Aug. 2 to 27, click here.