And Bella Sang With Us. Photo by Emily Cooper.
Leanna Brodie and Sarah Louise Turner as Vancouver's first female police officers. Photo by Emily Cooper.

With so little actually known about Vancouver’s first women police officers, playwright Sally Stubbs had the opportunity to let her imagination run wild in And Bella Sang With Us. That may be part of the problem, as Stubbs layers too much into what could have been a fascinating historical look at our city and the issue of gender.

More history, less mystery

The central focus of Stubbs’ story revolves around 14-year old Mai Ji, trapped in a life of prostitution. As female constables Harris and Miller attempt to help Ji escape her life, they lock heads with both their boss and their family, sing songs to tame a wild beast, and discover that the past always has a way of catching up.  All this while discovering running in a skirt is difficult.

In fictionalizing this period of local history, Stubbs overloads her story. The unfocused result is more questions than answers, with only a cursory look at the challenges these two trailblazers faced.

Foley as folly

Under Sarah Rodgers direction, sound effects are provided by cast members. For example, as one character shuffles imaginary papers on stage, real papers are being shuffled behind her at a Foley table. In view of the audience, the result is not only distracting, it is also confusing.

The fringe effect

And Bella Sang With Us comes by way of the 2016 Vancouver Fringe (and an even earlier script, but more on that later). A pick of this year’s festival, it is not difficult to understand why Stubbs’ play would have been chosen, although it has more to do with quantity over quality.

Weary of the ubiquitous one-person shows that make up the bulk of any fringe festival, it is always refreshing when a show with a larger cast makes an appearance. With its cast of six, including a piano player, there is a built-in draw that the typical fringe show never achieves.

Dropping the kid gloves

Stubbs first explored these characters in her 2012 play, Kid Gloves. While this re-worked script is superior, it still suffers from many of the same issues of its predecessor. In what should be a fascinating piece of local history, And Bella Sang With Us never quite delivers. What we get, once again, is a mediocre police story instead.

And Bella Sang With Us by Sally Stubbs. A Firehall Arts Centre production. On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova St, Vancouver) until January 14. Visit http://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.