A bit of Vancouver history comes to life as “And Bella Sang With Us” by Sally Stubbs, takes the stage at the Firehall Arts Centre until January 14th
“And Bella Sang With Us” imagines what life was like for Vancouver’s first female police constables. In 1912, L.D. Harris and Minnie Miller made Vancouver the first city in Canada with female police officers and only the third in the world. Little is know about the real-life policewomen, other than they served as jailhouse matrons, and regularly patrolled the young city’s pool halls, cabarets and dance halls. Now, just steps from their patrol beat, the Firehall Arts Centre fills in the blanks of their trials and tribulations serving on the Vancouver Police Department.
The slice of life play, portrays Harris (Leanna Brodie) and Miller (Sarah Louise Turner) a bit like a 19th Century Cagney and Lacey. Harris is a tough, no-nonsense women who pulled herself up from a tough upbringing and determined to be the equal of her male counterparts, whereas her partner Miller was a well-connected, christian, trained nurse looking to make a difference for the women and children being taken advantage of by those who’d seek to profit from the sins of men. These disadvantaged women and girls are touched upon, as is the frustrations that the constables faced trying to be taken seriously in a male profession. More about the history and mysteries of downtown Vancouver would have been welcomed, to give more depth to the officer’s lives.
Brian Ball’s simple staging adapts to take us from the VPD jail cells and offices, to The Hive Cabaret, to the alleys and streets of Chinatown. To keep the play fresh night after night, sound improvisation is used for most props, the objects or actions are mimed by the actors, with the sounds of these props portrayed by the other players offstage. The challenge of matching the sounds to the actions kept the players on their toes but caused for a distraction as the improv sound effects activities were visible on the side of the stage. Overall, the 90 minute play is quite fast-paced as the action swiftly moves around the city and tensions mount for the officers.
“And Bella Sang With Us” plays at the Firehall Arts Centre until January 14, 2017. Tickets are on sale now.