Normally I find November to be, well, pretty boring; it’s grey, it’s cold, and there’s not a whole lot going on. I was more than pleased when I went to see one of the most exciting, interesting plays I have seen in a long time.
I walked into this play not really knowing what to expect. The story of Canada’s efforts in WWI – especially with the famous assault on Vimy Ridge – is a well known one. Canada took Vimy, a feat that no other fighting force had been able to do. The men who took the ridge became figures of near legend; it would be a challenge for a number of young actors to portray these people. Or so I thought. The work done by all the actors in this play was nothing short of amazing. Each brought something different to the play, much like each area brought something different to Canada’s fighting force in the great war. And while the actors did a great job of creating these legendary figures in this epic story, it’s not the legend that engages the audience – it’s the individuals themselves. The fact that they were human, asked to do something no one else could do in the worst possible circumstances. The human aspects – their backgrounds, their relationships, their connections, their lives – all made entirely relatable through brilliant performances and superb direction.
The disjointed approach to the story itself may seem a bit daunting to an audience – in the beginning scenes I heard some chatter to this effect – but that feeling quickly disappears. The audience became so engrossed in the story and the characters that it was hardly noticeable. If anything, the way the story was told – through flashbacks, different perspectives, visions, etc – made the play work very well. It gave the impression that these people had their own lives, all running simultaneously in different parts of Canada, all very different, but all connected, and all brought to that one spot.
The character acting in this play was great to watch. I’ve seen all of these actors before, many times, and this was some of the best acting I have seen from them – and if you have seen them too, you know that’s saying something. Daniel Dobson as the brash rifleman brought a level of uncertainty, a level of fear lying just beneath the surface, that would almost definitely have been present in anyone in his situation. Allison Haley showed that it was not only men that got to prove their strength in this time of war. David Hutchinson, a bit of an outcast in the group as the lone Frenchman, showed such terror, such remorse, that I could completely believe that he had experienced what he described. Stephen MacIsaac presented such vulnerability, yet such strength when faced with hardship, it’s hard to believe that he started acting just last year. The changes that Ron Newcombe showed in his character could easily show how these experiences could change a person in a very realistic way. Jeff Ward had a ferociousness that fleshed out his character very well as a man who had something to prove. Though each character was presented as different and independent, their strength came from their presented relationships and connections to the others on stage.
Though each actor had their own main, or focus, character that they were for the bulk of the play, they also had a number of other roles throughout: friends and brothers back home, other soldiers, etc. One of the the most interesting segments of the play came in the telling of each soldier’s training for the assault on Vimy. Each rotated to fill the roles of everything from generals giving orders to the masses, to grunts digging the trenches. All done in such a tight, well-executed fashion that, though it changed the flow of the story, easily fit in and was identifiable by the audience.
Speaking of segments such as that, I must mention there was another character in the play: the set. The large set was almost constantly changing. Actors moved pieces flawlessly and fluidly. At any given moment a hospital bed could become a trench, or a wall, or railroad tracks, or even canoes! This made what could have been a very long play for an audience very entertaining, and almost magical to watch. Each hole, each stone, each piece of wood became something different in every scene. The set design and manipulation was great to watch on its own.
“Vimy” marks the full-length production debut of Scott Sharplin as a director at CBU. Clearly Sharplin took the time to not only become familiar with this script but also with the set and with his cast – knowing exactly what they were capable of and getting the best out of them. It is clear that everyone put the time in with this play.
I greatly enjoy history, as well as theatre, and this was an amazing blend of both. I feel, having watched this play, that I have a better understanding of this time, and of these people who went to war for Canada. As a history teacher, I am very glad to know that many of our students in the area are being given the opportunity to see this production with their schools. Not only does it do an amazing job of bringing history to life, but it also makes it very real and very relatable. It is easy for anyone to feel a connection to any of the characters.
I really cannot say enough good things about this play. Easily one of the most interesting and entertaining plays I have seen at the Boardmore Playhouse. I highly recommend it.
“Vimy” will be performed all this week at the Boardmore Playhouse, CBU, for daytime school shows, and will be once again open to the public for evening performances (7pm) on November 19 and 20, with a final matinee performance on Sunday, November 21, at 2pm.