BWW Review: Design Steals the Show in Soulpepper's VIMY
"I've heard the lighting is amazing," a woman whispered to me before the show. Clearly designers Astrid Janson and André du Toit are doing something right - Soulpepper's VIMY is a visual feast.
Written by Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen, VIMY explores the trials and tribulations of four soldiers recovering in a field hospital during the First World War. Clare, a nurse from Nova Scotia, tends to the men - accepting their pain, while she mends her own.
Thiessen writes, "VIMY is not a play about war." VIMY is a play about love. Love of country. Love of culture. Love of another. As the soldiers recover from one the biggest Canadian victories of the First World War, the Battle of Vimy Ridge, they escape to their respective happy places. Re-living or maybe even re-imagining past moments with lovers and family members - they heal. Clare (Christine Horne) is dragged through these visions with them, as an active observer - the soldiers aren't the only ones fighting night terrors.
Steep, planked staging creates the perfect landscape to illuminate du Toit's all-encompassing lighting design. It is simple, but striking. Coming in from every angle, it perfectly profiles the silent reactions from each of the actors. The dark hues, mixed with smoke, create a complete sensory experience - forcing each of your senses into overdrive. The show is lit in the way a dream or memory can seem out of focus and more beautiful than it actually was. One moment the stench of herbal cigarettes fills the theatre - the sound of bombs being dropped far in the distance. One moment, with snow falling from the catwalk, I could have sworn the theatre got colder. It is an immersive experience.
There is a moment when Horne is simply walking across the stage - the back of the theatre lit with The Shadows of the men fighting in no man's land. The culmination of direction and design is tragically beautiful. You suddenly feel exactly what they mean when they gesture to their hearts and say, "it's all stuck in here."
I think I am becoming André du Toit's biggest fan.
VIMY, presented by Soulpepper, runs through August 5, 2017 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Historic Distillery District, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto, ON.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit https://soulpepper.ca/performances/vimy/1998
(main photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)
Christine Horne, Wesley French, Sebastien Bertrand, Tim Dowler-Coltman, TJ Riley, Andrew Chown