by Lynn on May 6, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts., Toronto, Ont.

Written and co-directed by Michael Hollingsworth
Co-directed by Deanne Taylor
Costumes by Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill
Lighting by Andrew Dollar
Props and drawings by Brad Harley
Video projections by Adam Barrett
Music by Brent Snyder
Sound by Jake Blackwood
Cast: Rick Campbell
Jamie Cavanagh
Mac Fyfe
Jacob Adams
David Jansen
Aviva Armour Ostroff
Linda Prystawska

NOTE: The intention of theatre makers Michael Hollingsworth and Deanne Taylor, were simple: to tell the whole history of Canada from its beginnings, when it was called New France, up until Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. There would be about thirteen segments and collectively they would be called: The History of the Village of the Small Huts. The productions would take place in a black box of a set reminiscent of television, using short, sharp scenes and over stated costumes and props. It would be for people raised on Rock and Roll and television. The results would be informative and hilarious. Think about it, Canadian history that would be interesting and hilarious. Hollingsworth and Taylor’s theatre company is VideoCabaret.

The current segment of The Great War beautifully skewers the folly, stupidity and arrogance of politicians and military leaders that led to and conducted the Great War. It also shows the heartbreaking effects of this on the simple people caught in the middle.

The Story. Archduke Ferdinand is assassinated in a ‘little known place’ called Sarajevo and eventually that leads to World War I, The Great War. Bully politicians and military leaders are gung-ho and rah rah to enter the fight. Eager young men are anxious for the adventure and soon realize the horror of war.

The cock-ups are immediate. The Canadian troops are sold defective rifles—they only fire properly on the first shot and jam on the second—and nothing is done to correct that. The soldiers are faced with mustard gas for the first time and don’t know how to save themselves except in a few cases. Soldiers are lead to their slaughter in places named Ypres, The Somme, Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. Because we have the advantage of hindsight a mention of each place makes us suck air harder. The number of dead are astonishing.

The story details the folly and arrogance of the politicians who have no clue about what is going on in Europe and are more involved in the petty squabbles at home. We get a picture of clueless officers who would rather tend their gardens than deal with the serious business of war and caring about how their soldiers are outnumbered. We get the personal picture of soldiers bonding in the face of battle and their families worrying back home.

The Production. The playing style of VideoCabaret is very particular. The set is a black box with three levels on which scenes are played inside the box. We could be watching television which is the point. Scenes are no longer than a minute. Cheesy, but totally appropriate music, full of foreboding, underscores each scene and introduces the next. Seven actors play several parts. The make-up, costumes, wigs and props are outlandish and outsized. For all this exaggeration you get the essence of a character and what they looked like in person by the outlandish wigs especially. The ensemble of seven is exemplary. Each performance is nuanced and full of subtle detail, whether it’s an accent or speech impediment, or pitch of voice or attitude.

Comment. Because of the subject matter The Great War is one of the most moving and sobering of the whole series. There is still the funny, pointed satiric look at the folly and stupidity of those in charge, but in the end the production squeezes the heart because of the horrible loss of life. And if ever there was a show that showed the raging stupidity of war, The Great War is it.

VideoCabaret in association with Soulpepper presents:

Opened: April 7, 2016.
Closes: May 14, 2016.
Saw it: April 26, 2016
Cast: 7; 5 men, 2 women.
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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1 Tandy Cronyn May 16, 2016 at 11:09 am

Soulpepper, again and again, seems to produce the best and most challenging theatre.