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The Breathing Hole

By (author): Colleen Murphy

With: Siobhan Arnatsiaq-Murphy

Introduction by: Kenn Harper

Translated by: Janet Tamalik McGrath

Stories of the Canadian Arctic intersect in this epic five-hundred-year journey led by a one-eared polar bear.

In 1535, Hummiktuq, an Inuk widow, has a strange dream about the future. The next day, she discovers a bear cub floating on ice near a breathing hole. Despite the concerns of her community, she adopts him and names him Angu’řuaq. In 1845, Angu’řuaq and his mate Ukuannuaq wander into a chance meeting between explorers from the Franklin Expedition and Inuit hunters. Later, when the explorers are starving, the bears meet them again. By 2035, entrepreneurs are assessing degrees of melting ice for future opportunities. Angu’řuaq encounters the passengers and crew of a luxury cruise ship as it slinks through the oily waters of the Northwest Passage.

Humorous and dramatic, The Breathing Hole is a profound saga that traces the paths of colonialism and climate change to a deeply moving conclusion.


The Breathing Hole is an incredible piece of theatre that is both ground-breaking and deeply moving.”

“The play and production gently invite audiences to consider relations between native people, settlers and the natural world through perspectives that are novel—perhaps even a little revolutionary…”
“We’re conscious that we are witnessing a work of epic proportions.”
“What War Horse did for horses, this does for bears… The bear is, in all his charm and majesty and significance, a triumph for the author’s ambition and imagination.”


  • Carol Bolt Award 2018, Nominated
  • Susan Smith Blackburn Prize 2018, Nominated
  • Excerpts & Samples ×

    Franklin: (to Ařgiaq) Welcome. Oo-noo-coot.

    Ařgiaq stops in front of Franklin, then slowly extends his hand and touches Franklin—and everyone jumps at the same time. Holloway points his rifle, steps in front of Franklin, fires a warning shot into the air, and the two hunters either cover their ears and run, or duck, or scream or all three.

    Holloway: Step back—

    Franklin: Relieve them of their weapons—

    Holloway: Shoot them—

    Carter tries to get their harpoons but misses. Ařgiaq and Paningajak run, then stop.

    Ařgiaq: (to Paningajak) They’re not spirits apparently—

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) Keep running—

    Holloway: Shoot them—

    Carter: Don’t fucking move!

    Ařgiaq: (to Paningajak) I touched one!

    Franklin: (to Carter) There will be no swearing!

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) Don’t touch!

    Carter: Sorry, sir.

    Franklin: This isn’t Waterloo—leave them their weapons. If they attack, we’ll shoot, but for now be friendly.

    Ařgiaq: (to Paningajak, re: Franklin’s epaulettes) Look at those shiny things.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) They are dangerous—don’t go any closer—

    Franklin: (calls to Ařgiaq) Oo-noo-coot.

    Ařgiaq takes a reluctant step towards Franklin.

    Ařgiaq: (to Paningajak) They are puny humans, just like us.

    Franklin takes another step towards Ařgiaq.

    Franklin: We are a peaceful people.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) These people are not our people—they are very pale and they stink.

    Holloway: Are you sure they’re friendly?

    Franklin: We’ll find out if you don’t blow them to kingdom come first.

    Holloway: If they don’t kill us with their stink first, sir.

    Ařgiaq: (to Franklin) Qilau’mut mumiqpakpihi? [Do you drum dance?]

    Franklin: (to the crew) Lay down your weapons.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) They don’t drum dance like we do to create harmony between people . . . don’t get any closer to them.

    Holloway: Lay down our—but sir—

    Franklin: That’s an order!

    The men reluctantly lay down their rifles, then Franklin greets Ařgiaq with a handshake.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) Don’t touch him.

    Franklin: Welcome— Too-naa-hoo-geet-check . . . ? [Welcome to you both?]

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) Sounds like he said tunngahugittik—that we two should feel the ground beneath us. Yikes, does this mean he might push us over?

    Ařgiaq: (to Paningajak) I think he is trying to say we should lie down to feel the ground, but I’m not sure why.

    Ařgiaq returns the handshake in his fashion while Paningajak, still uncertain, stands back. Franklin points to himself.

    Franklin: My name is John Franklin. I’m commander of this expedition. We consist of the HMS Erebus and Terror, and I am properly addressed as “sir.” This is Officer James Holloway, second in command.

    Holloway is not keen on shaking hands.

    Franklin points to Ařgiaq.

    You, your name uh . . . hoo-now-root-tinhooo-vet?

    Ařgiaq: Ařgiaq . . . (points to Paningajak) Paningajak.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) Ask them if they happened to have seen two bears passing through here.

    Franklin: (to Ařgiaq and Paningajak) . . . And what’s your business, Ud-yuck and Pah-nee-guy-yak . . . (to Holloway) How do you say “what’s your business”?

    Holloway: I don’t know their words.

    Ařgiaq: (to Franklin) Takugaluaqpigit nanuuk mařruk tahamunngauřuk? [Did you happen to see two bears passing through here?]

    Franklin: I wish Morshead would get here—he picked up some of their language working with Parry in ’25 when they lost the Fury.

    Crew #1 enters carrying a tray with a porcelain teapot, two cups, two saucers, and sugar. He pours a steaming cup of tea each for Franklin and Holloway. Crew #2 hauls in the bulky daguerreotype.

    Holloway: Ah, tea—“Tea is the cup of life.”

    Paningajak points to the Erebus in the distance.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) Look at that big boat.

    Ařgiaq: (to Franklin) Umiarřuanaluk angiřualuk pigiřaqhi? [That big boat. Is it yours?]

    Franklin points to the Erebus in the distance.

    Franklin: I think that word “oom-yuck” means boat.

    Ařgiaq: (to Paningajak) Maybe these men are the whale hunters my grandfather spoke about.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) Ask him.

    Carter: They seem keen on our ship.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) Let’s go to that boat!

    Ařgiaq: (to Franklin) You . . . Arviqhiuqti? [Are you a whaler?]

    Crew #1: (to Franklin) Your tea, sir.

    Franklin: Thank you. (to Ařgiaq) Pardon?

    Ařgiaq: (to Franklin) You . . . Arviqhiuqti?

    Franklin: (to Holloway) What’s he trying to say?

    Crew #1: (to Franklin) Sugar, sir.

    Holloway: He’s saying “you”—“you” as in “you.”

    Franklin points to his teacup.

    Franklin: (to Ařgiaq) Tea, gentlemen?

    Ařgiaq: (to Franklin) You . . . (pointing to the Erebus in the distance) Arviqhiurutikšaqhi? [Is that a whaling boat?]

    Franklin: (to Ařgiaq) Will you have a cup of tea?

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) They don’t understand.

    Holloway: (to Franklin) They don’t understand, sir.

    Crew #1: I’ll get more cups and saucers.

    Crew #1 exits.

    Ařgiaq pantomimes a whale swimming with his hands and body.

    Ařgiaq: (to Franklin) You.

    Franklin: Me . . . my hands . . . swimming. Dear Lord—your hands swimming—

    Carter: Fish.

    Holloway: Fish, yes! I think he means fish, sir—wonders if we want to fish?

    Franklin: No, Ařgiaq, my work is not fishing—my work is discovery and observation, for I am at heart a scientist.

    Ařgiaq reaches out and points to Franklin’s Knight Commander badge that hangs around his neck as a collared chain.

    Ařgiaq: (in Paningajak’s direction) This is shiny.

    Holloway swats Ařgiaq’s hand away.

    Holloway: Don’t touch!

    Paningajak is inclined to take a swing at Holloway.

    Franklin: No need for that—enough!

    Ařgiaq: (to Paningajak) Angajuq, no no.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) Don’t touch them.

    Franklin: (to Ařgiaq) This is of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order, a knighthood bestowed upon me in ’33—Carter, give these fellows some trinkets.

    Carter: Here, fellas . . .

    Carter takes a box from the trunk, flips it open, and holds it out to the two hunters.

    . . . help yourselves.

    Ařgiaq: (to Carter) Hungauřat. [Beads.]

    Ařgiaq and Paningajak help themselves to the trinkets in the wooden box.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) Let’s bag what we can! Stuff our pockets!

    Carter: (to Paningajak) Hey—only one handful each!

    Franklin: They are worthless trinkets, Carter.

    Ařgiaq: (to Paningajak) Our wives will like these—they are like the shimmering surface of fish eggs.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) Maybe they have a bowhead whale in their boat.

    Franklin: Oom-yuck means boat, doesn’t it? (to Ařgiaq and Paningajak) Yes, that’s an oom-yuck—the Erebus—a Hecla-class bomb vessel built by the Royal Navy.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) Let’s go to the boat and get harvested whale meat.

    Ařgiaq and Paningajak start to leave.

    Franklin: Yes, that’s our oom-yuck—370 tons, armed with two mortars and ten—Ařgiaq, where are you— (to Holloway) Where are they going?

    Holloway: (to the hunters) Excuse me, sir.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) I’ll go get our sledge.

    Carter: Whoa there, buddy— (stops Ařgiaq) Don’t walk away when Sir John Franklin is addressing you—

    Paningajak spies the dead seal.

    Paningajak: A seal!

    Ařgiaq: Seal!

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) Nukaq, this is freshly caught, very fresh.

    The two hunters kneel beside the seal as Ařgiaq uses his small bone knife to expertly slit open the abdomen and cut out a choice part he hands to Paningajak, who eats it.

    Franklin: A bear brought that to us as a . . . well, a gift—don’t mention that in your observations, Holloway—readers will think we’d a bit too much to drink.

    Holloway: You’d think they’d have the decency to cook it first.

    Ařgiaq offers the tastiest bits of the seal to everyone.

    Wickers: No thank you.

    Ařgiaq: (to Franklin) Tinguk mamaqtupanaluk. [The liver is very tasty.]

    Bean: Thank you, no.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) How can he resist the tastiest part!

    Franklin: Perhaps later.

    Carter: I’ll pass.

    Paningajak: (to Ařgiaq) Only fools refuse the most delectable part.

    Paningajak uses a wound pin on the seal to prevent more bleeding.

    Holloway: What—are they going to sew up the seal? Savages, sir—right ungodly savages.

    Reader Reviews



    336 Pages
    9.00in * 6.00in * 1.00in


    November 23, 2020



    Book Subjects:

    DRAMA / Women Authors



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