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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Oh What A Lovely The Great War - VideoCabaret: The Great War - Play Review

The Great War - VideoCabaret at The Cameron House - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written and Directed by Michael Hollingsworth


War is such a funny subject. Looking back at history, we look with our modern day eyes at the absurdities in all the horrors of war, the decisions that are made, and the lives we use as pawns, and only detachment to the idea of the actual cruelty of war can let us go on as wars continue on in the world we live in.

VideoCabaret, the theatre company currently set up in the intimate backroom theatre at The Cameron House, revives The Great War, their hyper satirical farce about World War 1 (and subtitled "The History of the Village of the Small Huts: 1914-1918"), part of their critically acclaimed History Plays series.

The idea of putting such a dark subject in such an over-the-top manner is not new, but is always highly effective. The Great War reminded me a lot of the musical Oh! What A Lovely War (recently put on by Soulpepper but only the National Theatre revival in London from 1998 at the Roundhouse really managed to balance the absurdity of war within a circus act work) with the similar cleverness in all the juxtapositions between the subject matter and the theatrical presentation.

A game cast, an amazing lighting design by Andy Moro, hilariously cartoonish sets (by Andy Moro and Jim Paxton) and props (by Brad Harley), and wonderful costumes by Astrid Janson and Sarah Armstrong, somehow manage to convey all the battles of war, the politicians back in Canada playing war games, and the women left behind, on the small stage in quick scene changes required by Hollingsworth's play.

The play tends to quickly cut from one scene to the next, with pitch black scene changes to make the quick scene changes. The vignettes follow several soldiers from their lives back home in Canada, and then into the war. The quick intercuts sometimes hold back the true emotional pull to immerse oneself into the stories, especially at the star, as they tended to rely completely on the satirical nature of the presentation. But while I thought there could have been a few more punchlines in the first act, the stories really begin to culminate in the 2nd act as the show gets to throw the darkest elements after the humourous highs it suckered us with.

The terrific cast of 7 manage to portray dozens of characters, but some particular standouts are Mac Fyfe (especially as Robert Adams), Anand Rajaram, Dylan Roberts and Kerry Ann Doherty. Greg Campbell made a particularly amusing Robert Borden.

While the choppiness of the play is both its flaw and asset as an entertaining way to show the history of Canada's involvement in WWI, the production and design is simply marvelous and clever. The over-the-top cast (and I say that as a good thing) make the history lesson an easily understandable and amusing (or horrifying) show and special kudos to the stage manager and backstage folks for keeping the hectic show (many times in pitch black) constantly in motion!

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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