In HOMECHILD at Arts Club, there is Something for Everyone
by: Jacquie Lanthier
From 1869 to 1948, children were taken off the streets and out of the orphanages of London and its surrounds to begin a perilous journey by sea to a new life in Canada. Once they had disembarked onto Canadian soil, siblings were often separated—some adopted by foster families, others put to work. Boys were sent to work manually as farm-hands while girls took up household responsibilities. These children were known across Canada as “home children”.
Homechild, a dramatic play by Joan MacLeod, is about one such child, Alistar, who has grown into a bitter old man seemingly unwilling to confront his past. The fading paint on the farmhouse and the swing hanging from the willow bough transport the audience into a part of history that many of us are unfamiliar with. We have the luxury of living in Canada, undisturbed by circumstances that would cause us to flee this country, although many of our ancestors traveled here from birth places not so stable.
Once you sit in your theatre seat you are picked up from the Vancouver metropolis you have walked in from and are placed in the kitchen of a modern Ontario farming family. The audience witnesses the personal interplay between the characters making up this family—instances which mirror the same behaviour found in any family. This, in part, is what makes the play so charming and accessible.
The conflict between a stubborn Alistair, played by Duncan Fraser, and his city-dwelling daughter Lorna, played by Jillian Fargey, is so real that it’s hard to believe they’re not actually related. Pair that powerful relationship with a caring aunt concerned with small details—Flora, played by Donna White—and a comedic Mike Stack as Alistair’s grown-up son, Ewan—and the makings of a dynamic Canadian family are complete.
The play taps into some wide-ranging themes about our collective Canadian history as snippets of humour enliven the otherwise dramatic storyline. In fact, the comedic occasions are also part of the play’s charm, and both the humour and stage are pleasantly brought to life by the cast.
Wherever you have come from or whatever age you are, the story of Homechild is one of historical significance. It’s a great play for anyone interested in a part of Canadian history that is often unfamiliar, or anyone just wanting to watch the family dynamics we can all relate to unfold on the stage—with a few laughs in the interim. Through Alistair and his family we gain access to the story about how a large number of people made their way to Canada as children—a history surely shared by some of our own ancestors.
Homechild is showing at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Granville until April 12, 2009.