Homechild by Joan MacLeod

Dates and Venue 12 March – 12 April 2009; Tues at 7:30pm, Wed – Sat at 8 pm, + Wed , Sat & Sun at 2pm | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Director Jane Hewlett Set Design Ted Roberts Lighting Marsha Sibthorpe Costume Design Sheila White Stage Manager Marion Anderson

Reviewer John Jane

The "Home Children" project involved the migration of orphans and children abandoned by impoverished parents mainly from Scotland and England to Canada. The programme was generally administered through the Barnardo Homes organisation with the intention of finding adopting parents for these children that would otherwise be destined to a life of poverty. Unfortunately, while some children were favoured with finding a new family, many ended up as indentured labour on farms and in domestic service.

Alistair McEachern, a cantankerous widower now roughly eighty and his younger sister, Katie were among the last such children to arrive in Canada under this scheme. Alistair, known to his sister as “Jackie” left Edinburgh first and settled in southern Ontario. Although Katie came later to live in Montreal, they never again saw each other.

Duncan Fraser plays Alistair without expecting sympathy and yet, he offers a heart-warming portrait of a man who has denied the truth of a painful past to himself and his family for too many years.

Alistair has an uneasy relationship with his divorced daughter Lorna, sublimely played by Jillian Fargey, who has come to the family dairy farm near Cornwall (Ont.) from Toronto for a brief visit. Ruefully, it’s during Lorna’s stay that the old man suffers a major stroke.

While in hospital, Alistair experiences an apparition. He encounters his long-lost sister Katie in a vivid flashback that recreates an incident from their childhood. When Lorna realises that her father possibly has a sister she sets about to unearth details of her whereabouts despite opposition from her father and under-achieving brother Ewan.

Set in roughly the present time, Homechild is a very fine ensemble performance by a group of actors at the top of their game. I was particularly impressed by Hayley Carr as a young Katie, who not only embodies Alistair's memory of a time when they were together, but also carries the story’s narrative in a perfectly lilted Scottish brogue. Donna White also deserves praise for her role as Alistair’s sister-in-law Flora, who somehow manages to smooth out the disaccord between generations.

The production features Ted Roberts’ well-constructed set that oscillates between the stoop of a typical, weathered Eastern Ontario rural homestead and a simple kitchen and living room within.

Joan MacLeod’s story of Jackie (Alistair) and Katie is fiction, but it was doubtless true for hundreds of other children separated from their siblings. As the last of the "Home Children" reach old-age, her “cry in the wilderness” play opens our eyes to a chapter in our history that some may want to forget. Thanks to the playwright’s straightforward story-telling and Jane Heyman’s down to earth direction, those fortunate to attend this excellent production likely never will.

© 2009 John Jane