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  • Mary’s Wedding a poignant story of life, love and loss

    The War to End All Wars — fought a century ago — is the backdrop for Mary’s Wedding, a timely reflection upon the sacrifices made by Canadians abroad and at home in the defence of their freedoms.

    “Yes it’s historical, but incredibly poignant today,” said Andorlie Hillstrom, director of the Regina debut of this widely presented work by Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte.

    Romance unfolds on the Canadian Prairies between a farm boy named Charlie and a young English immigrant woman named Mary. But for them there is no fairy tale ending, only the First World War with its separation and emotional turmoil.

    “The two of them, they meet during a rainstorm, they fall in love, and then it is the Great War that changes their entire lives,” Hillstrom said in a recent interview.

    A third character is that of Lt. Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, a real-life decorated squadron commander in the Lord Strathcona’s Horse, a Canadian cavalry unit credited with charging at German infantry and artillery in France’s Moreuil Wood. Flowerdew was fatally wounded and posthumously received the Victoria Cross.

    Mary’s Wedding a poignant story of life, love and loss
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    “They’re credited primarily with changing the course of the First World War by defeating the Germans during that particular battle,” Hillstrom explained.

    Like Flowerdew, the character of Charlie dies in battle — but the audience is left tensely awaiting the details of his demise. And they also must endure with Mary the repercussions on the home front.

    “It’s a play about hope, it’s about carrying on, it’s about letting go,” Hillstrom said. “We’ve actually been working through the five stages of grief and loss, because it’s really about suffering a loss — but you have to let go eventually, so that you can carry on.”

    Mary’s Wedding runs at The Artesian from November 4-15 and is being presented by Golden Apple Theatre, which Hillstrom serves as co-artistic director.

    Because of the venue’s intimacy, along with a simple set and props and the play’s employment of only two actors, “I had to have two darned good actors to do this show,” Hillstrom said. She added she got them in the persons of Regina natives Tess Degenstein and Jeff Irving.

    Both Degenstein and Irving have returned to Regina to perform in Mary’s Wedding after having left their hometown years ago to develop their careers. Degenstein has worked across Canada and in Europe, and Irving’s experience includes several stints at the renowned Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

    Degenstein, who portrays both Flowerdew and Mary, said that because much of the play is from the title character’s point of view, “that courage is brought to the fore in a way that, when we’re talking about war stories, isn’t always the case.”

    Irving said that his research suggests Canadians enlisted in the First World War thinking they’d win and be back home quickly. This bravado gave way to real courage in the face of enemy fire.

    Mary’s Wedding draws attention to the sacrifices and sorrows endured by generations of Canadians despite the nation’s collective reluctance to take up arms, according to Hillstrom.

    “It seems particularly poignant to me that we’re working on this play today, when there’s often been a little hesitancy on our part as Canadians ... This whole thing about going to war, is it heroic, is it nonsense, is it ridiculous, is it a waste of money, is it a waste of time and lives?”

    The characters in playwright Massicotte’s work are fearful but heroic, she said, “and you have to have some regard for that.”

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  • Matthew Morrison's wedding hula

    Matthew Morrison performed a hula dance at his wedding.

    The 'Glee' actor tied the knot with his longterm girlfriend Renee Puentee in an intimate ceremony in Hawaii in front of just 50 close friends and family earlier this month and the pair made sure they stuck to some local customs.

    Matthew Morrison's wedding hula-Image1
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    He explained: "The coolest thing we did was a partners hula together. It's tradition for a Hawaiian bride to dance hula for her husband so she did that. I never saw her do it before and it was amazing. And we kinda learned this hula together that we did after that. It was awesome."

    The 35-year-old star admitted their big day was "perfect" but he couldn't help but shed a tear as they exchanged their vows.

    He said: "We both wrote our own vows. That was the moment I teared up, was when she was saying her vows to me. Both our vows were very us and filled with heartfelt sentiments but also some comedy."

    Matthew stunned his new wife with an emotional musical performance at their wedding reception.

    He told People magazine: "I sang a song as a surprise to her. It was 'Top Of The World' by The Carpenters, which was her mom's favorite song. Her mom passed last year and we actually had the wedding on her mother's birthday."

    And while the singer-and-actor is blissfully happy with Renee, 31, they have no plans to start a family just yet.

    He said: "I think we're on a two-year plan. We want to enjoy this moment and enjoy being husband and wife by ourselves because once that happens, it's kind of not about you any more."

     

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  • Sham wedding trial collapses: Judge slams lies of border staff as he is forced to free asylum vicar 'who ran conveyor belt of bogus marriages'

    A vicar suspected of running Britain’s biggest sham marriage racket has walked free after his £1million trial dramatically collapsed as a result of ‘serious misconduct’ by the Border Agency.

    The Rev Nathan Ntege, 54, was accused of overseeing a ‘matrimonial conveyor belt’ of Eastern European brides at his parish.

    The jury was told weddings at his church rocketed from six a year to up to nine a day – with chaotic ‘cattle market’ scenes as brides who seemed to scarcely know their grooms hurriedly squeezed into ill-fitting shared wedding dresses in the lavatories.

    Judge Nic Madge accused two officials of perjury and perverting the course of justice;

    Defence lawyers claimed immigration officer Maggie Harkins and chief immigration officer John Bradbourne destroyed and tampered with evidence, acted dishonestly and interfered with the investigation log;

    The court heard that five months of evidence, including key admissions by some of the accused, vanished, only to reappear at the 11th hour;

    Harkins faces a misconduct inquiry after it was revealed she posted the slogan ‘Peppa Pig against Muslims’ on her Facebook page.

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    The collapse of the trial leaves taxpayers with a £1million bill and means two disgraced public servants – who have since been suspended from duty – could now face criminal charges themselves.

    It is also a huge embarrassment for the now-defunct Home Office agency and raises fresh questions about the state of the nation’s beleaguered immigration controls. Ntege, who wore his dog collar in the dock at Inner London Crown Court, was accused of carrying out 494 fake marriages, an average of one every other day, between December 2007 and March 2011.

    He joined St Jude’s with St Aidan’s Church in Thornton Heath, South London, in 2002, after seeking asylum from Uganda.

    The vicar was ‘fast-tracked’ into the post because officials were desperate to recruit more Africans – and in the words of the prosecutor, thought he brought ‘a bit of colour to proceedings’ in the Church.

    But suspicions were aroused of a ‘no questions asked policy’ when the Church went from conducting six marriages a year to up to nine a day.

    Ntege was accused of knowingly presiding over sham marriages as almost £70,000 in wedding fees went missing.

    Verger Brian Miller, 81, and Maudlyn Riviere, the 67-year-old church secretary, as well as four others, were also accused of being part of the ‘industrial-scale’ plot. They all denied the charges.

    Most of the weddings involved Bulgarians who had the right to live and work in Britain marrying husbands or wives from outside the EU whose UK visas had expired.

    But after several days of legal argument, Judge Madge threw out the case, saying to proceed would endanger the ‘integrity’ of the courts. He agreed there had been an ‘abuse of process’ involving Harkins, who led the inquiry, and her boss, Bradbourne.

    In scathing comments, the judge said: ‘Officers at the heart of this prosecution have deliberately concealed important evidence and lied on oath. It has tainted the whole case.’ Last night, Ntege described the case as a ‘perversion of justice’ and said the high number of weddings was due to the increasing popularity of his church.

    He told Channel 4 News: ‘Most of them were legitimate. I don’t say we weren’t duped – there were a few who tried to use the advantage – but whenever they were caught, we reported it to the diocese, the Home Office and the police.’

    The saga has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and the Home Office and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced internal inquiries.

    Harkins, Bradbourne and a third officer have been suspended. One source said: ‘The UK Border Agency must have trusted these officers to give them the biggest sham marriage case Britain has ever seen.

    ‘They must be seen to take this very seriously. These were both experienced officers who had worked on a number of cases. It calls into question how those cases were carried out.’

    A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The collapse of this trial is an extremely disappointing end to a long investigation. We expect the highest standards from all our staff, and clearly we are treating the judge’s ruling that our officers acted in bad faith with the utmost seriousness.’ A CPS spokesman said: ‘We accept the ruling that the prosecution case has been fatally undermined.’

    Persecuted in his homeland? Never, says his African boss

    When Nathan Ntege arrived in London from Uganda in 1996, he immediately claimed asylum – and his claims of persecution in Uganda was soon accepted.

    A succession of job offers followed from the Church of England – despite his difficulties completing official paperwork – because, it seems, the clergy were keen to hire more Africans.

    But for Ntege’s old boss at the Church of Uganda, Bishop Samuel Ssekkadde, tales of his hardship and persecution in Uganda come as something of a surprise.

    According to him, the vicar – embroiled in a huge investigation into a bogus wedding sham – enjoyed comfortable lodging attached to his church in the capital Kampala, was paid a salary far above the national average and was far from persecuted.

    The bishop laughed at the notion of Ntege being persecuted by the Church of Uganda, saying he was bemused why Britain granted him asylum. And he claims Ntege paid repeated visits to Uganda after fleeing to Britain.

    Speaking at his large villa on the shores of Lake Victoria, on a road named after himself, Bishop Ssekkadde told the Daily Mail: ‘I don’t think he was facing any persecution. There are so many people who have left and claimed they are being persecuted – and they are not. There is no persecution around the Church of Uganda.

    ‘And there was no political persecution in Uganda in 1996. I don’t know whether Ntege belonged to the opposition because we are apolitical in the church, we don’t belong to political parties. But I have no memory of him campaigning for anything.’

    We cannot know whether the bishop knew Ntege’s full background, but after moving to the UK, the controversial vicar brought his wife Elizabeth, 49, and four children to join him.

    A spokesman for the Diocese of Southwark said it had received a ‘a letter of introduction and recommendation from the Archbishop of Uganda’ for Ntege, and that he had been ‘granted overseas permission to serve as a priest in 2001’. According to prosecutors, the Mercedes-driving vicar, 54, somehow managed to amass as much as £500,000, more than £50,000 of which he wired back to his homeland.

    At the same time, he presided over an astronomical surge in a weddings at his South London church – from a handful of year to an amazing nine a day – mostly between Africans and European Union citizens, who have the right for themselves, and their spouses, to live in Britain. It is that extraordinary increase in the number of weddings which led Border Officials to mount a huge investigation into what they believed to be Ntege’s involvement in one of the UK’s biggest marriage scams.

    Bishop Ssekkadde said that had the Church of England bothered to contact him for a reference, he would have told them to steer clear of Ntege, adding that the vicar left in disgrace after ‘abandoning’ his bewildered flock without warning for the ‘green pastures’ of England.

    ‘In 1996, Ntege said he had been invited to London for a two-week conference – and didn’t come back,’ the bishop said. ‘When you are ordained you are married to the diocese, and you cannot just desert it. If a vicar has deserted his flock you cannot employ him. The next thing I heard was that he had been employed by the Church of England. But I never received a single ring from London – and now a noise is being raised about him.’

    He added: ‘If the Church of England employed him to get more Africans into church, that is not ecclesiastical.’ And speaking of the popularity of bogus marriages to win citizenship in England, Bishop Ssekkadde said: ‘That is a sin.’

    Ntege was born a couple of hours north of Kampala in the ramshackle and dusty town of Luwero.

    He was sent to lodge with a family friend in the capital while going to school there. He lived in a sparsely decorated, shabby tin-roofed bungalow next door to the woman he went on to marry in Kampala’s Namirembe cathedral, Elizabeth Samwezi.

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