BWW Review: Masterful Storytelling in Soulpepper's BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR
The memory of a fascinating Canadian war hero brought to life by a fascinating Canadian actor. BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR is in fine form in Soulpepper Theatre Company's 2017 revival. Aligning with the 150th Birthday of our nation - the musical, created and performed by John MacLachlan Gray and Eric Peterson, is an incredible story of bravery, courage and survival. An intimate reflection - BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR reminds us that this is our history. These are our stories.
The "top Canadian ace" of the First World War, Billy Bishop was a decorated war hero, earning the Victoria Cross for gallantry. Bishop came a long way from ill-mannered, cheating Royal Military College student to Lieutenant-Colonel of the Canadian Air Force. BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR takes you on his journey - like a trip through Bishop's memoirs.
Ted Dykstra's revival is as much a tribute to Billy Bishop, the man, as it is to the show itself. The set is littered with crates, displaying the various theatres that have played host to the Canadian musical - and the show feels, genuinely Canadian. The structure of the storytelling, the sound and the mood of the depressed, yet hopeful music - it all feels like an east coast kitchen party.
Playing a role he helped create and has been performing for nearly 40 years - Eric Peterson practically gives a masterclass in acting. Cycling through a multitude of characters with extreme ease - it still seems very exciting for Peterson. A simple jump into a box and you're transported to the Caledonia, ushering Bishop to Europe - or to his first flight as an observer in the war. Peterson's natural gifts with humour and comedic timing still get the laughs, as expected - but they also enhance the effectiveness of the show's solemn moments. This contrast adds weight to one of the show's most poignant moments, "Let us dance together in the sky".
While watching this particular scene, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of the men and women that lost their lives in the war. Survival is a central theme in BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR. Bishop struggles with it, fights against it and challenges it. This show ensures the survival of his story. Like those men and women, we owe our freedom to men like Bishop. It is our duty to preserve their legacy. We must never forget that.
BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR is presented by Soulpepper and runs through August 5, 2017 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery Historic District, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto ON.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit https://soulpepper.ca/performances/billy-bishop-goes-to-war/1999
(photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann)