With Remembrance Day less than a week away, cities and towns all over Canada will be telling the stories of their homegrown heroes. Theatre By The Bay (TBTB) is doing the same but by bringing the brave to life.
We Must Have More Men (WMHMM) took to the stage this weekend at the Trinity Anglican Churchin downtown Barrie to packed audiences. The play debuted last year to great reviews and with Canada 150 being celebrated through the nation, TBTB felt it necessary to retell the story of Barrie’s involvement in World War I.
As the world prepares for war, WMHMM starts off to the backdrop of every day life in Barrie with the MP for Simcoe County W.A. Boys promoting cheaper electricity to the area and its constituents. From there we see school kids being playful, the cadets learning responsibility and the beginning of the local women’s suffrage movement. The jovial school dance reminds the audience how simple life must have been before the announcement that Great Britain had declared war on Germany, which in turn meant so did Canada.
It would have been easy for TBTB to have loud explosions, dramatic screen footage of the war and overly physical acting to show the hell that was the battlefield during The Great War; but that would have been every Canadian’s story and the cast for this production is doing what the local theatre company does best and that’s tell Barrie’s story.
TBTB draws in the audience with tidbits of the town that make your ears perk up when you hear them. Richard Varty plays Ernest “Goldie” Hanmer played brilliantly to the point where after this play you will not think of Hanmer Street as where Toys R Us is, but rather of the internal conflict of a young man and his path throughout the international conflict that plagued so many.
George Livingstone was praised as someone who should a have street named after him, Fred Grandy is no longer just a name on the downtown Cenotaph and the name Jack Fitsell should be known by every Simcoe County student before they graduate. Fans of hockey will enjoy the mention of the Barrie Colts as the majority of boys back then were much like the local kids of today and enrolled in the hockey program.
While the play sounds like a tribute to the brave men and boys of the area in the early 1900s, it could have easily been called Thank God We Have Women. The insight as to how the home-front was handled is absolutely captivating. Most war stories told have men running through fields of mud with gunfire zinging past them, bullets hitting them as the viewer watches the hero take his last breath. WMHMM gives the audience a look as to how the wives, mothers and sisters dealt not only with the fear of saying good-bye but also with the pain of accepting death. Joanna Keats as Joanna Grandy, the mother of Fred, will reel you back in to the drama of the play should the video backdrops take you too far into Europe. Reprising her role from last year as teacher/nurse Kathleen Barwick is Heather Dennis. Dennis’ performance does exactly what it is supposed to in showing the strength and weakness of a woman in 1900’s small town Canada. Just as Maxwell Franklin brought Jack Fitsell to life, Candy Pryce pays wonderful homage to local heroine Justina Calderwood. Calderwood revived the local Red Cross during the war and later became president after the conflict. Watching Pryce as Calderwood fight for women’s right to vote, battle politicians for help and struggle to keep rations fair will give anyone more appreciation for how hard it was to be a woman in Barrie and what she must have had to endure.
Through letters and news clippings collected by TBTB, the story of Barrie’s involvement in WWI is told in a way that the audience might leave and walk the town with a different view. Topics of today were brought up back then such as whether there are too many bars on Dunlop Street and what is the cost of bringing new business to the area. As the play begins the audience is made to ask the question of why something all the way over in Europe has to do with Barrie. By the time the lights go up, you will realize just how the city in which you live was in itself troubled by conflict and turmoil during the War To End All Wars. WMHMM assures us that war is hell, fighting in war is hell; but the forgotten hell is back home by those scared, helpless and trying to live day by day not knowing what uncertainty tomorrow brings.
Producers Alex Dault and Iain Moggach, co-playwright Danielle Joy Kostrich and director Leah Holder have given Remembrance Day in Barrie a new tradition. Every school in Simcoe County should be seeing this play and adding it to the curriculum for November. WMHMM will remind kids and adults why we wear a poppy this time of year and why the names on the cenotaph and local streets should be Googled and studied.
It is Canada 150 this year with Remembrance Day just days away. This time 100 years ago, the nation was at war and seeing a massive amount of casualties. Every city across the country will stop at 11am this coming Saturday and remember the great sacrifice given by Canada’s heroes. Theatre By The Bay’s We Must Have More Men begs you to take a look at the names carved in the granite at Memorial Square and remember that being this close to Base Borden doesn’t make us a military town; Barrie’s physical and emotional involvement in fighting for freedom away from the comfortable banks of Kempenfelt Bay make us a military town.
We Must Have More Men will continue at the Trinity Anglican Church (24 Collier St. in Barrie) from November 8 to 11 and will then head to Base Borden’s Terra Theatre (14 Tobruk Rd., Borden) from Nov. 15 to 18.
There are day shows and evening shows available, check out the website for times and ticket availability.