Redpatch tells a worthwhile story too earnestly

Hardline Productions has produced Redpatch

Raes Calver and Deneh’Cho Thompson play First Nations WWI soldiers in Redpatch

Redpatch doesn’t work—at least it doesn’t work for me. I’m a white guy and Redpatch deals with the experience of a Métis soldier during WWI, so some might feel inclined to dismiss my criticism. But the company invited me to review the show, so here goes.

Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver’s script introduces us to a young guy who goes by the name of Half-Blood. He is determined to enlist and fight for Canada in “the war to end all wars”. Half-Blood’s grandmother, She Goes Between, warns him not to sign up. “War doesn’t make men brave,” she says. “It doesn’t make men heroes.” But Half-Blood ignores her and he is soon on the battlefields of France. There, his skills as a tracker and hunter prove useful—and lethal. He turns into a killing machine, venturing into no man’s land under the cover of darkness and slaughtering scores of German soldiers.

Was Half-Blood’s grandmother right? Of course. Does war make Half-Blood a hero? Of course not. As it turns out, Half-Blood has to untangle a trauma involving his childhood best friend before he can release himself from his compulsion to slaughter.

There’s a narrative twist involving Jonathon, the friend, that’s kind of cool and creepy. And some of the cast members contribute nice work. Calvert plays Half-Blood and, especially when he transitions between the child and adult versions of his character, you can appreciate the understated honesty of his performance. Deneh’Cho Thompson’s Jonathon is sweetly eager. And, as a soldier named Howard Thomas, Joel D. Montgrand is quietly authentic. I also appreciated Bradley A. Trenaman’s expressionistic lighting design.

On the other hand, Chelsea Rose Tucker overacts as a recruit named Dickie. And, although Renaltta Arluk’s movement as Raven is pleasing, her Scottish accent, when she’s playing Sergeant MacGuinty, is awful.

For the most part, I found Redpatch so boring I felt like I was on a nine-hour flight, even though the play is only lasts 80 minutes.

There are a number of reasons for that. The script is illustrative: Half-Blood painstakingly unearths the lesson in a story about a killer whale that his grandmother told him. The characters speak their subtext: “I wanted to be brave like him,” Half-Blood says, referring to Jonathon. Redpatch deals in clichés: Dickie writes to his girlfriend in Winnipeg and she stops writing back. And the dialogue is so unsophisticated that it’s sometimes inadvertently funny. “You don’t shoot a sergeant”, a French Canadian private sagely—but belatedly—advises Dickie. “This is bad. Vraiment bad.”

Director Oliver has choreographed expressionistic movement and there’s a small degree of satisfaction to be had when the score from the beginning repeats at the end and we understand what all of the gestures mean. That choreography is far from sophisticated though. And there’s a lot of it.

Most problematically, the core narrative in Redpatch is indecipherable. Why does Half-Blood become a compulsive killer? The script offers a couple of explanations but they are vague.

It’s important to acknowledge First Nations and Métis history, including the history of soldiers who fought in Canada’s wars and I have no doubt that the artists involved with Redpatch are doing their best to honour those contributions. But their good intentions have not resulted in good theatre.

REDPATCH by Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver. Directed by Sean Harris Oliver. Produced by Hardline Productions at Presentation House on Thursday, March 30. Continues at Presentation House until April 9. Runs at Studio 16 April 12 to 16.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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