Shatter offers a new take on The Halifax Expolsion of 1917
For all the creativity in Canada and for all that’s taken place in our 150 years since Confederation, there sure isn’t a lot of Canadian historical fiction in the popular imagination. Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negros and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace are of course the notable exceptions, but for all that’s happened in the country it just doesn’t seem like enough has been imagined for Canadians to really take notice.
When a play like Shatter comes around and offers to take a few artistic liberties with a major event in Canadian history, it’s worth listening to.
“For me, the story of Shatter is basically a family,” says director Josh Languedoc. “The Macleans, deal with [and are] changed by the Halifax explosion of 1917. We see the family before the explosion … The arc of the play is how this explosion changes the family and challenges each character in their own way.”
The Halifax Explosion took place on December 6, 1917. Two ships collided and lit a fire onboard one of them, thereby igniting its highly explosive cargo and killing roughly 2,000 people in the resulting blast. The 100th anniversary of the explosion is this week.
Written by Trina Davies, Shatter explores the aftermath of the tragedy, touching on particularly poignant themes like media’s ability to reaffirm sentiments, ideas, and of course blame. Blame is a major aspect of the story, and Languedoc says that in the immediate aftermath of the play’s explosion, people search for the scapegoats nearest to hand. In 1917 that meant Germany.
“For lack of a better term, we call it the bandwagon mentality,” says Languedoc. “Jumping on the bandwagon just because it’s the popular thing to believe at the time. I find that very problematic and especially with today’s tensions in the states and tensions here in Canada towards Muslims … I find a lot of people have jumped on the bandwagon and don’t know why they’re on the bandwagon … Not questioning the mentality. That’s the issue that drew me to this play.”
Shatter is Languedoc’s first major play, having established himself as a playwright in greater degree than a director. Despite some nerves, he’s confident in the material and in his desire for greater Canadian historical fiction.
While the anniversary of the Halifax explosion and subsequently the play’s opening night will no doubt ring a somber tone, Languedoc believes the suffering in the play still has some more optimistic notes.
“Yes, the play is a tragedy,” Languedoc says. “There are some very tragic moments in it, but I think there’s a lot of hope sprinkled throughout this play as well.
However, the play does offer a few flickers of redemption.
“While I hope that audiences can really see the tragedy and see how characters can change in the face of tragedy,” he says. “I think it’s really cool that audiences have some glimmers of hope to focus on as well.”
Shatter is an examination of how we behave in a crisis. It asks how people might deal with a cataclysm and how they might react under that pressure. Though it may also work as memorial of the Halifax Explosion, it shares its best aims with the rest of Canadian historical fiction—to get you imagining history.
Wed., Dec. 6 – Sat., Dec. 16
Walterdale Theatre, $20