Nearly two years after its premiere at Vancouver’s York Theatre, Children of God has toured across Canada and is back at its starting place, stronger than ever.
This is a piece of theatre that not only everyone living in Canada should watch, but it is also something all high school students should see to begin their education about our country’s colonial history and the atrocities that occurred in residential schools.
Children of God follows siblings Julia and Tommy and their experiences in the same residential school in Northern Ontario. We are eased into their world through song and dance but the truths hidden behind the walls are dark and unnerving, showing us the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that was perpetrated in many of these schools. We are then brought into the future to see the effects of this trauma on Tommy’s adult life.
The form of a musical makes Children of God as beautiful as it is horrific, and helps make these stories accessible for a wide audience. Writer and director Corey Payette has put together an unforgettable production that will have the audience talking long past the final song. His passion for the work is undeniable in his speech on opening night, where he was beaming with pride for this piece of theatre that has had such a journey.
The plot is, unfortunately, a little predictable and while some say it is a surprise ending, it is foreseeable. And though some of the songs have simple lyrics, this also helps to ensure the story stands out as its most important element.
There is no weak link in the cast, with an array of beautiful voices. Cheyenne Scott and Dillan Chiblow are two standouts. As their mother Rita, Michelle St. John, also has a powerful voice. While there are many strong songs in the show, a couple favourites include “Runaway” and “Gimikenden Ina (Do you Remember?)”.
The most powerful scenes in Children of God take place as the children of the residential school come together to celebrate their language and heritage through song and dance. The group dance during “Gimikenden Ina” was particularly affecting.
Marshall McMahen’s set is simple but striking, with a huge sky on canvas creating an ominous setting, allowing Jeff Harrison’s lighting to provide a powerful effect on the backdrop, used through many of the musical’s most dramatic scenes.
As the final scene brings us all together in a profound moment of ritual and connection, it is a reminder that Children of God truly is a must-see for all Canadians, as a lesson about the true history of our country.
Children of God with music, lyrics and direction by Corey Payette. An Urban Ink Production, co-produced with the Segal Centre and presented with the Talking Stick Festival. On stage at the York Theatre (639 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until March 10. Visit thecultch.com for tickets and information.