Update – clarification from The Toronto Scottish:
“Lieutenant-Colonel Gostling did not land at Dieppe because the withdrawal party that he was to command ashore was not ordered ashore as there was no orderly withdrawal. Anyone on a landing craft offshore that morning was in imminent danger because in the skies above Dieppe was the greatest single air battle of the war.”
I have gone back and re-written this review countless times now because I just feel I can’t do this play justice. It literally blew away all of my expectations. I can honestly say without a doubt that this is the hardest work and effort I’ve seen put into a show so far this entire year. I was wondering why the Curtain Call Players only produce two musicals per season and this must be it! Everything was flawless! I commented last week that another musical I recently enjoyed wasn’t quite “Mirvish level” but it was “Lower Ossington Theatre level”….. But you know what? This was “Mirvish Level” quality. If I had paid 100 bucks to sit up in the back of the dress circle at the Princess of Wales Theatre to see a show about Canada’s role in World War 2 -specifically The Dieppe Raid – and THIS was the show that was presented to me, I would have been as blown away as I am now! How are these people all “amateurs”? No one forgot their lines. The dance numbers were flawless. I wish I knew the name of that swing dancing redhead who blew the entire audience away! There were countless musical numbers that were always rousing despite the fact that the ONLY song I recognized, of course, was “In The Mood”. David Rudat, an uncredited “ensemble member” was pretty much emcee-ing the 3-hour long affair and kept the audience engaged throughout numerous costume and character changes. His Winston Churchill impression was as good as John Lithgow on The Crown. The lighting that was cast against Rudat’s profile to mimic Churchill’s silhouette was instantly recognizable. In fact, it was so good….it made me think for a second it was Orson Welles or Kevin Spacey up there playing the iconic role. Then I started thinking about Kevin Spacey and got upset for a bit but I digress….
I WILL be honest. I was that bored kid up in Thornbury, Ontario back in the late 80’s who couldn’t STAND Remembrance Day. I hated school in general and I despised school assemblies. This was the longest assembly ever! I had Tourettes and ADD so I couldn’t really make it past the first line of In Flander’s Fields.
Bagpipes freaked me out and Mr.Milne, the ancient “Sarge” like gym-teacher (and sex ed teacher ugh) who screamed at me every morning to run around the track while I huffed and puffed from asthma in the middle of January in 3 feet of snow – well he was the lead Bagpiper in the Thornbury chapter of the Royal Canadian Legion. Everything felt regimented and forced. Yes I know of COURSE it was supposed to feel regimented but how were a bunch of 7-year-olds supposed to understand what was going on? In fact, here is a recent newspaper clipping from the same school I went to, doing the exact same things we did – 30 years later. I basically had the same demeanour as the kid in the Roots shirt over on the far right. Now I am a lot older and I really am not fond of children. Especially disinterested spoiled little brats who will never understand or appreciate the things that adults sometimes have to go through – like war and constantly trying not to get killed but then dying anyway or seeing all of your friends get killed off slowly, one by one over the course of 6 gruelling years!!!
This play was so well written and so well executed by director and choreographer, Meg Gibson that it was just the slap in the face I needed to understand finally what thousands of Canadian men (who were forced by a draft) suffered through during the first two World Wars.
The most jarring/heartbreaking scene I recall from Peter Colley’s epic “CanCon” World War II saga, You’ll Get Used to It: The War Show was near the end of the play when the 5 spirits, Dudley (Jacon Brien/Meg Gibson), Sarge (Jim Leckey), JP (Daryl Ledwon), Pops (Jonathan Rosenstein) and Sharkey (Cristien Rapp) who had died over the course of the war and left only the 6th troop member living, were singing with their arms around each other, swaying back and forth contentedly. “What a body count” I realized. When a soldier is killed in action today, although no more or less tragic than in the past, the reality now is, the names of the dead usually make the headlines for at least a day or two. We see images of Gold Star widows meeting their husband’s caskets on the airport tarmacs live on CNN. Just last month we all watched the heinous media circus in America regarding Sgt. La David Johnson who was killed in Niger and whether or not President Trump’s phone call to his widow was respectful enough. Here at home, we have a literal Highway of Heroes accompanied by the Trews anthem of the same name. I am not saying it isn’t tragic when each of these men or women dies in the Middle East or anywhere else in the present day, and they certainly deserve a heroic and dignified return home. But the death toll in previous wars was so insurmountable, honouring each of the deceased individually was impossible. We witnessed the undignified way Sarge left Dusty’s body behind without even a moment of silence.
The even greater tragedy though is the countless forgotten veterans, past and present who return home shell-shocked and alone without adequate mental health support, job training and generally without much understanding and appreciation from the rest of society for what they’ve been through. Only the dead it seems are truly treated like heroes. This was briefly touched on at the end of the play when Dusty, played brilliantly and bitterly by John McGroarty, lamented about how lonely he felt. How no one ever recognized or appreciated or understood anything he went through. Because this play was written in the early 1980’s we hear about him drinking beer alone at the cottage….but if this play had been written in 2017, we’d see Dusty, 95 years old, still alone (if still alive), stoically walking alone with his cane along Gerrard St. to the Glenn Rhodes United Church Food Bank every Wednesday morning. This is the point of the play where we can all take action and intervene quite easily. Not just by throwing a couple of loonies in a poppy box once a year, but by volunteering at the food banks, churches, seniors centres, soup kitchens, missions around the city. Finding out where these elderly or vulnerable people are falling through the cracks and try to provide them with a comfortable net to land on and help them make the most of the time they have left.
And on that depressing note, I’m just going to make a mention of my dear old great uncle Alfred Gostling who was killed in the Dieppe raid. He was Lt. Colonel of the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders and was apparently “killed instantly by a sniper’s bullet to the head as he “cheerfully and excitedly” led his regiment out of the landing craft onto the shore of the Green Beach”. He never had any kids. So no great-grandkids to ever remember this story. His brother, Brigadier General G.S.N. Gostling, was a few beaches down the coast, commanding the Toronto Scottish Regiment. For reasons still unknown to me, he never got out of the boat and was never in any danger(This is incorrect on my part – please see the statement from the Toronto Scottish posted at the top of this article). Was this because he was in a higher position? I always wondered what kind of guilt he might have carried with him for the rest of his life losing his brother like that. I briefly remember the Brigadier as a kind, smiley-faced, ancient but sturdy man with a moustache who died when I was 2. I grew up looking at an oil painting of him in his glory days in full regalia adorned with medals. That outfit now sits down in the Fort York Armoury I believe. He was lauded for the rest of his life as a hero, he was comfortable and happy and loved in a warm house and his wife joined him two years later in the afterlife. They also were buried in Niagara on the Lake which leads me to believe they weren’t hanging around at the local food bank like Dusty from the play. And Alfred….well you can pick up a new book just published in 2012 called Tragedy at Dieppe: Operation Jubilee, August 19, 1942 by historian and author, Mark Zuehlke. It turns out Uncle Alf wasn’t exactly the most well-liked commander in the Canadian military. But you know what? He kept a smile on his face as he bravely led his men and himself to certain death. It sounds like he was a bit trigger-happy, manic-sounding, etc. So he was enjoying what he was doing and by all accounts, he never knew what hit him and died instantly.
So again, I plea for all those who are still alive of all ages who are poor, undertrained for “real life jobs” when they return home from military duty, people with PTSD who are not receiving any mental health care. Some of these people would rather they HAD died …. the list goes on and the message is clear what we, as able-bodied, younger Canadians can do to try and honour our troops.
Next up for Curtain Call Players: Sister Act (Gospel and Whoopi Goldberg-esqueness)