I had the honour of attending Hardline Productions world premiere of Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver’s historical drama REDPATCH at Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver last week.
Marking the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, this moving production follows the story of a young Métis volunteer solider from the Nuu-chah-nulth nation of Vancouver Island, deployed to fight in the First World War.
We follow his journey from his Vancouver Island home, through the trials of training, to the bloody chaos of battle including turning points at Ypres, the Somme, and Vimy Ridge. Ultimately, the story takes him home again, where he must now attempt to return to his life.
He sees enlisting as an affirmation of his bravery and strength and his ability to earn the respect of the whites, but his wise grandmother cautions him that there is a difference between bravery and foolishness.
We see in his fellow soldiers the various attitudes held of the 4000 Native (Aboriginal, First Nations, Metis) soldiers from friendly acceptance to outright, overt disgust and suspicion of the unknown. He endures trench warfare and discrimination as a result of his aboriginal heritage and this plays out through the entire war. The First Nations soldiers were sent as scouts, trench raiders and snipers, frequently at night, using their previous experience hunting in Canada’s wilderness. This was difficult to accept for a Saskatchewan farm boy and a young Quebecois.
To honour the premiere on former First Nations land, Hardline Productions hosted a ceremonial presentation with Bob Baker prior to the performance. This presentation drew attention to and honoured the sacrifice that both First Nations and European veterans made for Canada in the Great War.
In its world premiere production, an entirely First Nations cast performed REDPATCH. One of the co-authors, Raes Calvert performed as our hero. In addition to Calvert, the work featured Reneltta Arluk, Émilie Leclerc, Joel D. Montgrand, Chelsea Rose Tucker, and Deneh’Cho Thompson.
The creative team includes Assistant Director and Cultural Consultant Nyla Carpentier, set & prop design by Pam Johnson, lighting design by Brad Trenaman, and sound design by James Coomber. The production also features original masks by Jenn Stewart and costumes by Christopher David Gauthier.
The cast are all amazing. We feel all the emotions with and toward them as expected: disgust, sympathy, anger, frustration, fear, joy, and sadness.
Renellta Arluk is notable for her many roles as the cheeky raven, the loving wise grandmother, and the Scottish brogue ranting Sgt. MacGuinty.
The play is historically correct, thoroughly researched by the authors. Many aspects (poor footwear, faulty guns, wet conditions in the trenches) were part of the recent anniversary celebrations. This play certainly enhances our deeper understanding of the First Nations’ contributions to Canadian efforts during World War I.
Luckily, the play continues its run April 12 – 16, 2017 at Studio 16 in Vancouver.
I highly recommend it to everyone, especially history buffs!