British Columbia

Playwright bases his latest work on plays staged in a WW II prison camp

A Vancouver playwright is honouring his grandfather's experience as a prisoner of the Second World War with a theatrical production running Remembrance Day and beyond.

Amiel Gladstone was inspired by the pages of his grandfather's war journal

Amiel Gladstone's production of Three Winters stars an all-female cast to provide an alternative perspective on the prisoner of war experience. (The Cultch/Facebook)

A Vancouver playwright ​is honouring the years his grandfather spent in a Second World War prison camp by casting women to tell the tale of captured Allied airmen.

Amiel Gladstone's grandfather Glenn Gardiner survived internment in Stalag Luft III, a prisoner of war camp located in present day Poland that was made famous in the 1963 film The Great Escape.

Gladstone wrote the play, Three Winters, based on conversations with his grandfather and a journal he left behind full of drawings, poems  — and a list of plays popular in England at the time.

The journal Gladstone's grandfather kept was filled with sketches and poems along with a list of the plays the soldiers performed at the Stalag Luft III camp during WW II. (Amiel Gladstone)

The Red Cross sent scripts of those plays to the camp, along with the rights to perform them, to help the men keep their spirits up. According to Gardiner's diaries, the shows performed by men only were a hit in the camp. 

"While a show was running in the West End in London, there was a camp production also happening," Gladstone told The Early Edition's Stephen Quinn.

"You can imagine, when there's not a lot to do the theatre suddenly becomes this … very compelling way to spend the time."

A portrait from Glenn Gardiner's Second World War journal. (Amiel Gladstone)

The idea of modern plays — rather than Shakespearean works — being performed by all-male casts  intrigued Gladstone. And it made him think twice about how he might cast his own production. 

Seven women star in Three Winters because Gladstone wanted to provide a different perspective on war and some "theatrical distance" from the real events to avoid creating a biographical retelling of his grandfather's experience.

He came up with the idea after working on a Bard on the Beach production of Shakespeare's As You Like It.

That's one of several Shakespeare plays in which a woman disguises herself as a man, but in the Elizabethan Era would have been performed by a boy playing a woman who then dresses as a man.

"We've started to mess with that," said Gladstone. "Why not mess with this story and tell it in a different way. 

"The women being able to tell this story, it changes how we hear it, how we see it."

Three Winters premiered Nov.  7 and runs until Nov 17 at The Cultch's Historic Theatre in East Vancouver as part of the Ceasefire Series which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

With files from The Early Edition

To hear the full interview listen to media below:

Read more from CBC British Columbia