The program for the Ladysmith Little Theatre production of Tommy Douglas: The Arrows of Desire says that Douglas “gave us Medicare, Arts Boards and countless other gifts which produced whole people. He was a prolific disciple of The Social Gospel of Jesus, which lit his path through half a century of political battles as he gave voice to those with none, gave true meaning to the words: ‘freedom, peace, hope, faith, justice and love.’”
And in the two-act one-man play, presented in Ladysmith through a partnership between Ladysmith Little Theatre and Phantom Poets Touring Theatre Company of Canada, the ideas of freedom, peace, hope, faith, justice and love are explored with passion and fervour as Douglas is summoned from his grave 28 years after his death to recount his life and times.
This journey through Douglas’s life is an interesting, often humorous, exploration of not only one man’s life but also the political history of our nation. Through Douglas’s eyes and in his own words, we learn about the Great Depression, the First and Second World Wars, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, co-operatives, social democracy and the birth of universal health care. We experience political wins and losses, surprises and disappointments. We feel the opposition that Douglas faced throughout his career.
The play, written and performed by Lake Cowichan resident John Nolan, is a well-written, clever, entertaining and educational look at the man who was voted the Greatest Canadian in the year-long CBC Television event in 2004. There are very funny moments, as Nolan delivers plenty of humorous lines, and there are very powerful moments, especially when Douglas is delivering speeches in Parliament.
Nolan can be funny, serious and somber, and he gave a riveting performance that had a sold-out Sunday matinee crowd at different times absolutely silent or laughing and clapping, and he earned a standing ovation for his powerful portrayal of Douglas, who was known for being dynamic and charismatic.
I liked the format of the play, with Douglas telling his own story in his own words. It brought someone who has been dead for 28 years and who served this country long before I was born to life and it was a bit like watching a biography instead of reading one. This was a very entertaining way to learn more about a man who has helped shape our country.
After the performance, Nolan offered a Q&A period, where audience members had a chance to find out more about Douglas, about the play and about how Nolan came to write about Douglas. It’s a great addition, and audience members on Sunday had many interesting questions for Nolan.
Douglas was born in Scotland, and he came to Canada with his family in 1911, settling first in Winnipeg. He spent 45 years in public office as a Member of Parliament and as Premier of Saskatchewan, and he is known as the Father of Public Health Care.
An interesting tie-in is that Douglas actually served Ladysmith from 1969 to 1979 as MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan-The Islands, and this was the last riding he served before retiring from politics.
Tommy Douglas: The Arrows of Desire continues at Ladysmith Little Theatre until Feb. 9. For more information, click here or call the box office at 250-924-0658.