Forever Separated by the War – Claire Russell

I had the privilege of being born into the Northumberland Players. My grandfather, Ron Templer, was a founding member and lifelong supporter of the arts in our community. I have many fond memories of watching rehearsals at the Firehall, when my mother, Valerie Russell, was directing a show, or falling asleep in the back row of Victoria Hall during a dress rehearsal. I’ve also had the distinct pleasure of watching both my talented father and sister shine onstage in many productions.

Needless to say, I caught the theatre bug at an early age and began participating in as many shows as I could, whether I was running a spotlight, helping with makeup, dressing actors backstage or performing. One production that I was particularly proud to be a part of was Mary’s Wedding by Stephen Massicotte, which ran as part of the Players’ Armistice series in 2018. 

Claire Russell and Josh Lambert in Mary’s Wedding.

Mary’s Wedding is a beautiful, poetic and immersive play. It is told through Mary’s dreamscape, taking place before, during and after the First World War. It’s a tragic and moving love story between Mary and Charlie, who meet during a thunderstorm and are forever separated by the War. 

When I received my copy of the script, I tucked in on the couch, put on some classical music, and lost myself in Mary’s dream. By the time I got to the last page, I had tears streaming down my face. Not only was this a story of the pain that comes with lost love, but it was a powerful telling of the struggle and plight of so many men, young and old, who lost their lives at War.

I knew that this would be a difficult story to tell, in part because it has a two person cast and had no intermission, but also due to the weight of the story, and the insurmountable loss that surrounds it. My grandfathers both fought in the Second World War, and neither of them could bring themselves to discuss what they had been through.

Obviously, I couldn’t truly understand the gravity of what they had experienced but I researched and watched as many films as I could. I tried to form some idea of what it might have been like to be there on the battlefield, to “Charge for the guns… into the valley of death”. The Tennyson poem is a recurring theme throughout the play, right up until Charlie’s death, at the battle of Moreuil Wood. 

Claire Russell and Josh Lambert in Mary’s Wedding.

The play gives the director a lot of freedom in terms of set and staging, but relies heavily on the technical elements of lighting and sound. The soundscape of the show almost becomes a third character, between the rolling thunder and shell explosions that transport you into the story. I had the pleasure of working with a great team, including Jack Boyagian, our fearless director who pored over every detail, and even considered creating a dirt floor in the Firehall Theatre. Josh Lambert, who beautifully portrayed the part of Charlie and commuted for over an hour to come to every single rehearsal. Victor Svennington, who created our incredible soundscape, and helped to bring the whole production to life. My dad, Tim Russell, who built our gorgeous set and created moody and effective lighting. Carlotta Rutledge, who made our lovely costumes with keen attention to detail. Lastly, my aunt and our stage manager, Lynne Templer, as well as Maureen Holloway and assistant stage manager Rebecca Rennicks, who painstakingly ran the sound and lighting boards. 

Mary’s Wedding is a show I will never forget. We rehearsed through the summer of 2018 and came out with a production we were all very proud to present. Everyone involved knew how important it was to tell this story; the story  of nearly an entire generation of men who were lost or forever changed in the wake of War. Even more, Mary’s Wedding shows us the unyielding power of love, and its ability to transcend time, space and death.