"Where Poppies Blow" is a play written by Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch. It tells the story of daily life during the First World War through the eyes of Gus, an 11-year-old boy living in Halifax. His 19-year-old brother Eddy, who volunteered for the army, is away fighting at the Front.
In a tribute to Remembrance Day, drama students at Cairine Wilson Secondary School decided to perform their version of "Where Poppies Blow" on stage in the school gymnasium, but based it in Ottawa and not Halifax.
|Gus Kincaid. right, played by Evan Simcoe, listens to wounded veteran Mick, who is played by Simon Lee, talk about how he was left blind by a gas attack at Ypres. FRED SHERWIN PHOTO
The lead role of Gus was performed by 17-year-old senior Evan Simcoe who was totally convincable in playing an 11-year-old boy. In the opening scene the audience learns that Eddy joined the army the year before and was fighting in Flanders, Belgium.
We also learn that Eddy has been sending letters back to his family every week like clockwork. In the play's second scene, Eddy intercepts the mailman to get Eddy's latest correspondence. In a classic example of dramatic foreshadowing, the mailman doesn't have anything from Eddy.
Seemingly unconcerned by the lack of a letter, Gus goes inside to have breakfast with the middle sibling James, who is 16 and wants to one day follow his older brother into the army. His mother, who locked Eddy out of the house when she found out that he had enlisted, makes it clear that she doens't want anymore of her sons fighting in the war. "One son in the war is enough," she says.
After breakfast, the mother gives Gus a pair of socks to take to the Ladies Knittting Regiment.
The next scene opens with one of the regiment's volunteers, Elsa Smith, who is played by Jillian Lovell, singing "Keep the Home Fires Burning", followed by fellow volunteer Flora Trumpet, played by Kylie Mackenzie, who sang "Pack Up Your Troubles". Both performances were very well done. We find out, however, that both ladies have vastly different circumstances and therefore different opinions on the war.
Flora, who is single, has a very romanticised opinion on the war and the young men who have gone to fight in them. Elsa, on the otherhand, is married and her husband is fighting on the front. She sympathizes with the young men on both sides of the front lines and wishes it was all over so that the men can return to their wives and families.
After visiting the Ladies Knitting Regiment, he drops by the post office to mail a letter to his brother and then the local military hospital where he meets Mick who was wounded and left blind during a gas attack on the Front.
As the play unfolds, the audience also hears a voice reciting a line or two from "In Flanders Fields" every few scenes. Is doesn't take long to realize the lines are being recited by Eddy and that he is likely already dead as the play takes place.
After leaving the Ladies Knitting Regiment, Gus runs into Dora who is working at the local munitions factory and is wearing pants, something Eddy has never scene before. He then runs into "Louie" Bishop, who is the fictional wife of Canadian ace Billy Bishop.
"Louie" asks Gus to read a letter she just received from her husband. In the letter Bishop, who is a pilot, describe the horrific conditions the soldiers are fighting in. "All my friends are dying and I'm sick of it," writes Bishop.
After reading Bishop's letter, Gus meets a wounded soldier at the military hospital named Mick who is played by Simon Lee. Mick was left blind by the first gas attack on the Canadian trenches at Ypres which he confesses as being "beautiful" when he first say the green-hued mist approaching his position. It wasn't until he could no longer see and his lungs were burning that he realized the "beautiful mist" was in fact dangerous. He lost conscious and didn't comes to until he was at the field dressing station and couldn't see.
Mick's monolgue of what he went through was delivered with real compassion by Lee who was suffering from a severe cold during Friday night's performance and had to use a wireless mic in order to deliver his lines.
After listening to Mick, Gus finally went to school where he walked into Mrs. Albright's Grade 12 classroom which was empty except for one student because the rest of her students had all joined the army.
Before he could leave and go to his own classroom, Mrs. Albright told him that he had to go straight home instead.
The play then shifts to the trenches in Flanders where Eddy is shot and killed after convincing a fellow soldier to go and warn headquarters that a German attack seems imminent.
When Gus arrives home, he finds his mother holding a telegram that has just informed her that her son Eddy has been killed in action.
In the final scene, Eddy, who is played by Bruno Luten recites "In Flanders Fields". He then tells Gus to keep the tin whistle he had taken from his ruck sack before he got on the train to go to basic training.
"Where Poppies Blow" is a poignant play that gives an accurate depiction of what life was like on the homefront during the First World War. It also accurately depicts the horrors of war on the men who fight them and are either left incapacitated, deformed or dead, which is worth remembering on the one day of the year we should all pause and remember the sacrifices made by so many.