Sunday, July 16, 2017

Canadian History Plays at Soulpepper

It is definitely Canadian history month at Soulpepper.  In addition to the 2-part Confederation plays by Video Cabaret, there is another remount of Eric Peterson in Billy Bishop Goes to War and then another play about WWI - Vimy.  I'm not planning on seeing Vimy (and the reviews have been middling at best), but the other three were quite good.

I've consistently been blown away with the Video Cabaret plays.  Depending on how they split them up and mount them, it looks I have 8 to go.  If they only put on one or at most two a year, it will certainly be a while until they finish the cycle, and there is no guarantee they will get back around to the War of 1812 for instance.  (I'm a bit more concerned about their longevity than my own.)  I'm most disappointed that they haven't been able to come up with the funding to film the series, since this is something that deserves to be properly recorded.  Mac Fyfe was quite brilliant as Pierre Elliott Trudeau.  I would have to say that the biggest stand-out this time around was Michaela Washburn as Louis Riel, though the others were quite good as well.

Billy Bishop Goes to War has been kicking around for quite some time, and, indeed, around 2011 John Gray and Eric Peterson revised the script to make it more of a memory play, i.e. Billy Bishop is an old man, thinking over his youthful exploits.  Oddly, the Toronto Library only has the original edition, not the revised edition.  I'm not quite sure how different the two versions are, but I will try to get ahold of the revised edition (Pratt Library has a copy but they are on restricted summer hours) and then I'll do a comparison (and publish a more comprehensive review at that time).  There is also a DVD from 2013, so it captures the revised version, and preserves Eric Peterson in one of the roles of a lifetime.  This actually makes the 3rd time I've seen Peterson.  While I was impressed with him in The Model Apartment, he takes it to another level with Billy Bishop, since he has to impersonate a Scot, several upper-class Englishmen (and a wealthy English heiress) and even a cabaret singer!  Interestingly, this review suggests that in the first act he is bumbling a bit but he was totally sharp in the second act, and that it may have been an intentional strategy.  I'm not really sure if either Peterson was just much better this afternoon or if they decided to tweak the show and rein in any bumbling or indeed if I am just more forgiving, but I didn't notice anything like Peterson forgetting his lines or running out of breath.  That said, there are only a few more times that they can remount this show (with the show's creators that is), so I am very glad I had this opportunity to see it.  I was a little surprised that they didn't go into any of Bishop's adventures and misadventures after he returned to Canada and married Margaret, the girl back home.  Not only did he go back to the front and win well over 20 more air battles (far surpassing England's Albert Ball), but then he had a long career promoting Canadian aviation, and he was pressed into service as a kind of cheerleader during WWII.  I don't know if the first version of the show touched on this more or not.  I think some of the critics who aren't as thrilled with the show, probably would have wanted to hear about Bishop's ambivalence (if any) of promoting another war after having lived through the hell of war himself.  Anyway, here is a general article about his life.

I would recommend all three shows, though Billy Bishop is essentially a simpler show, not capturing quite as many sides to history as the Video Cabaret Confederacy plays do.  On the other hand, it is a prime showcase for a very special actor worth celebrating.

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