by Lynn on August 16, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At 4th Line Theatre in Milbrook, Ontario

Written by Ian McLachlan and Robert Winslow
Lyrics by Ian McLachlan
Directed by Robert Winslow
Costumes by Irina Lipkin
Set by Andrew Scriver
Original music and Musical Direction by Justin Hiscox
Choreography by Monica Dottor
Starring: Griffin Clark
Justin Hiscox
Joanne Latimer
Jajube Mandiela
Sean Towgood

A moving and sobering look at war hospitals and asylums in England during WWI.

The Story. Usually the plays produced by 4th Line Theatre are about the local history of the area around Milbrook and Peterborough, Ontario. Wounded Solders is a bit different.
It takes place in Epsom, England in 1915 in Horton War Hospital, that tended to the wounded British and Commonwealth soldiers—including Canadians. The play also takes place in the adjoining Manor (lunatic) asylum.

Because of the great need, lunatic asylums were often converted into war hospitals and the patients from these asylums had to be relocated. People who had physical conditions such as cerebral palsy were housed in lunatic asylums.

The play deals with a wounded soldier in the hospital and a patient in the asylum and a nurse from Jamaica who tended to the asylum patient.

Billy Fiddler is a Canadian soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder—although it probably was just called shell shock then. He fought at Ypres and the Somme and the experience left him unable to speak. He is haunted by a terrible guilt. He is treated by a doctor who believes electric shock to the tongue will cure him. It certainly does in this case, but it’s still barbaric.

We’ve met Billy before. He was a character in 4th Line Theatre’s other play this summer, Doctor Barnardo’s Children. Billy was taken as a young boy from London and brought to Canada as one of Doctor Barnardo’s children, supposedly for a better life.

Now Billy is a grown man who fought in WWI. He becomes friends with Johnny Singer who lives in the adjacent Manor Asylum. Johnny has cerebral palsy and navigates in a wheelchair. He is tended in the asylum by Nurse Lydia Grant, a wonderful nurse from Jamaica. Billy, Johnny and Lydia make an odd trio but they are true friends who stick with each other through their various travails.

The Production. All plays at 4th Line Theatre take place out doors in the barn yard and environs of the magical setting of Winslow farm. The farm has been passed down from generation to generation of Winslows. It’s now owned by Robert Winslow who sometimes writes the plays, as he did here with Ian McLachlan and he directs, as he did here, and sometimes even acts in the plays. He did not don his actor hat for this production.

There are certainly challenges to doing theatre outside. With Wounded Soldiers it’s a huge undertaking involving several original songs—lyrics by Ian McLachlan and wonderful music by Justin Hiscox who also conducts and plays in the band.

Director Robert Winslow of course knows every inch of his farm and how to use it to great effect. The band is situated on the walkway of one of the barn buildings. The first image is of soldiers and nurses miming trudging through mud in the distant meadow until they arrive at the barn yard. Kudos to choreographer Monica Dottor who is a master at using movement, mime and dance to create the sense of drudge and effort to get through muck.

The acting varies because the majority of the participants are from the local community with a few being professional actors. As Billy, Griffin Clark has a brooding darkness. He brightens when he is with Johnny and Lydia, on whom he has a crush. As Lydia, Jajube Mandiela is feisty and flirty. And as Johnny Singer, the man with cerebral palsy in the wheelchair, Sean Towgood is compelling, funny and very moving. This performance on its own is quite gripping and more so because Mr. Towgood does have cerebral palsy.

There is also good work from Joanne Latimer as Manor Matron, the head nurse who takes no nonsense from anyone.

Comment. I am particularly impressed with the work here because all the actors do fill the space with their projected voices in a natural way rather than screaming everything. Here’s the trick: you don’t scream to make the audience hear you. You project your voice and make the audience listen. A huge difference but very important.

The play can be tightened and trimmed a bit, but all and all, it’s a good production.

Opened: August 5, 2014
Closes: August 30, 2014
Cast: 22: 14 men, 8 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

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