Timescape: History Plays and Isolation
war, post-Depression optimism that was fuelling the North American baby-boom.
Saskatchewan of the 1950s was particularly booming, with the drought and Depression
well over and the new mineral discoveries like oil, gas, potash, and uranium raising
economic hopes in the province (“Saskatchewan”, eb.com).
Agriculture and settlement were also well-represented among the plays of Festival
’80 Radio Theatre, with isolated characters once more suffering sacrifice and loss for the
sake of agricultural advancement. What is not as clear in the plays of 1980, written
during less optimistic times, is whether the sacrifice was worth the gain. The scope of
these plays has narrowed from Denison’s wider focus on celebrating the historic
accomplishments of his heroes or Pattison’s greater epic sweep of social advancement.
Starting with Festival ’80, the focus moves more to explore the personal toll that isolation
and sacrifice could have taken on early settlers and farmers who came to Canada in
search of often-unattainable Utopias.
Lonely sacrifice and the pursuit of a Utopian dream in the Last Best West are at
the heart of James Brewer’s The First Step (1980, 25:00). The play is the story of a
young man, Frank Dobson, who emigrates from London, England to Western Canada.
Frank is hoping that Canada can provide a better life for his family than Britain can.
Time is of the essence for Frank as his wife, Lily, is pregnant with the couple’s first child.
Together Frank and Lily come up with a plan: Frank will travel to Canada alone and
work to raise money for Lily and child to follow later. The listener travels along with
Frank. Frank and Lily read their letters to each other, which fulfill a narrative role
through the play.