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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Theatre review: Redpatch is beautifully affecting

World premiere play uses dance, myth, and mask to tell a tale both universal and personal

Through dance, myth, and mask, Redpatch is a tale both universal and personal; a mental mythical menagerie unleashed.

Redpatch follows Canadian Metis soldier Halfblood as he grows from a young boy in a residential school through the First World War. His life is peopled with both the kind, and the cruel.

While he struggles against racism and indoctrination, we discover the real peril lies within his own mind – one bomb away from release. The play ends with a dramatic reveal that re-frames everything we’ve come to know before and begs the question, who are we when we’ve been told since birth to be someone else?

As Halfblood, Raes Calvert is a fluid and flexible performer. Shifting through Halfblood’s life, the mythology of the young hero disappears into Calvert’s personalized and nuanced performance. It is the subtle warmth of Reneltta Arluk’s Grandmother/Raven though who gives the show its heart.

Other standout performances belong to Emilie Leclerc’s Bam-Bam, a French-Canadian soldier in Halfblood’s unit who neatly balances comic relief with grounded humanity, and Joel Montgrand, whose young Doctor Howard Thomas is sympathetic yet ignorant enough to offer a believable counterpoint to the other members of the white unit.

There are many successes in this show. Conceptually, Redpatch offers a much-needed look at race in our history, as well as offering an experience of the psychological trauma induced by war. Aesthetically, Pam Johnson’s set design melds beautifully with Bradley Trenaman’s lighting to create a multifaceted world ripe with meaning. And while James Coomber’s sound design feels industrial and modern at times, it helps lend a timeless quality to the tale.

The one thing this show lacks though is a cracking sense of time. Some plot points are repeated, a dance goes on a bit too long, and we spend a bit too much time moving a set piece when it could easily be covered. But that kind of tightening is expected of a world premiere.

Redpatch is both personal yet universal and borderline mythological. Using dance, myth and mask, Calvert and Oliver have succeeded in asking a question about identity on a dual scale.

On the personal level, Redpatch is the story of a young Metis man destroyed by the horrors of war. On the universal level, it is the tale of a human that is told who they are and who they should be, and is ripped apart by the dissonance. It is beautifully affecting on both. Go see it.

Redpatch by Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver. Directed by Sean Harris Oliver. A Hardline Productions presentation on stage at Presentation House theatre (333 Chesterfield Ave, North Vancouver) until April 9 and at Studio 16 (1555 West 7th Ave, Vancouver) from April 12-16. Visit for tickets and information.

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