Redpatch illuminates untold history with bold, immersive plot
A scene from Redpatch. (Mark Halliday Photo)
History may be written by the winners, but not all victors share the glory. During the First World War more than 4,000 Aboriginal soldiers fought under the Canadian flag. Relinquishing their status to enlist, they were fundamental to the Allied troops’ victory, but little is known, or celebrated, about their contribution.
Hardline Productions’ Redpatch sets to rectify this with a bold exploration of one soldier’s life in the trenches, running from March 29 to April 9 at Presentation House Theatre and April 12 to 16 at Studio 16.
“Trench warfare was a huge part of World War I, and portraying this is a really artistically challenging part of this show,” explained Raes Calvert, the writer and producer of Redpatch who also stars in the play. “Audiences are going to be immersed into this world of trench warfare. The ’creeping barrage’ will be whistling overhead, chlorine gas is going to pour through the air, heavy shells will be raining down all around. I encourage audiences to get ready.”
Amidst this evocative staging, audiences will share the journey of a young Métis, Jonathan Woodrow, who volunteers as a member of the Canadian forces, as he leaves his home on Vancouver Island, experiences the struggle of army training and finally endures horrific battles that shaped the outcome of the war: those of Ypres, The Somme and Vimy Ridge.
Calvert’s passion has driven the play’s creation for the past five years. After seeing Sean Harris Oliver perform in Vern Thiessen’s ‘Vimy’ in 2011, he became intrigued by the First Nations character and began to research the subject before developing the play with Harris Oliver, co-writer and director.
During the process, Calvert made a remarkable discovery about his ancestry which deepened the significance of the work: his grandfather was Métis.
“[The research] afforded me the opportunity to go through a personal journey of self-discovering and allowed me to visit where my ancestors come from,” he explained. “Sean and I visited Nootka Island, and spoke with local elders from the community which calls Nootka Sound its traditional territory. The past five years writing, researching and developing this show has helped me connect to a part of my family that I was almost completely disconnected with before I creating Redpatch.”
This reconnection is demonstrated not only in the play itself, but in its casting: every member of Redpatch’s ensemble is Indigenous. “This choice doesn’t represent naturalistic casting (most characters are of European descent, and most are male). [We] felt given the subject matter… it would be special to go with a conceptual form of casting.”
One of the many ironies of hardship and human suffering is that it acts as a conductor for our best qualities, too: contemplation, compassion and expression.
As Calvert explains,”This is a play that's not just about war. It's about human connection. It's about knowing where we come from. There is a lot of heart in this story.”