CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 17 . . . . April 28, 2006
War is a difficult concept for anyone to understand—except for those who have been through it. Kevin Major’s play is an attempt at letting the reader ‘see’ ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary events of war by following soldiers who came together prior to a bloody day on July 1st, 1916. The reader ‘watches’ their early comradeship and buoyancy and their feelings of excitement change to fear and foreboding as the trench war they have heard about becomes a reality for them.
Juxtaposed against that narrative are the thoughts and experiences of the soldiers’ families in Newfoundland. As time passes in Major’s play, both groups lose their innocence and both clutch onto to ideals and a sense of duty to enable them to cope with events they cannot control.
Photographs from the play, as it appeared on stage, and of real-life soldiers, as yet untested by battle, give the reader a sense of the youth and bravado of the play’s characters. At the beginning of the play in the book, photographs help to identify the characters. The play is given context by the author’s introduction in which he cites his reasons for writing about the war, its significance to his family and to Newfoundland because “no regiment had suffered as badly as did the Newfoundland.” Major is the author of 15 books, many of which have won awards. Four of these books, including No Man’s Land, have been made into plays.
In France, the author visited the soldiers’ graves where the battle was fought and spoke with survivors in Canada. Throughout the ‘Introduction’ and the play, Major makes it clear that it is a story about ordinary people, such as students, fishermen, store clerks who volunteer to be soldiers, the local women who became nurses, and the families they left behind.
What makes the characters convincing in this play is their plain language. This is not the drama of a Hollywood movie but the lives of characters based on real people who wrote letters home. The author writes:
In the play and on the stage, the actions of the people ‘back home’ and those at war overlap giving dynamism to the play’s actions. The play is sensitively written using the songs and values of the time to underline what we would consider a naive view of war, one which makes the end of many of these soldiers all the more poignant.
The ability of the play to be appreciated by students depends on the ways it is taught and the context in which it is placed. History, political science and social science students would derive benefit from reading it. Drama students could use the play as a vehicle to learn both their craft and about the war.
As there is some strong language in the play, it is suggested for students 14 and older.
Located in Toronto, ON, J. Lynn Fraser is a freelance writer and editor whose magazine articles appear in international publications.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.