>>> Review: The Great War

THE GREAT WAR written by Michael Hollingsworth (VideoCabaret). At Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House). Runs to.

THE GREAT WAR written by Michael Hollingsworth (VideoCabaret). At Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House). Runs to May 14. $25-$56. 416-866-8666. See Continuing. Rating: NNNN

Now in its fourth year, the production partnership between VideoCabaret and Soulpepper continues to thrive. This time around, their alliance puts the spotlight on The Great War, part of Michael Hollingsworth‘s brilliant series of Canadian plays, The History Of The Village Of The Small Huts.

As always, Hollingsworth’s satirical work mixes impeccably researched details, preposterous truths and a whole lot of humour into a whirlwind history lesson enacted in a black-box theatre.

This instalment covers Canada’s participation in World War I, from 1914 to 1918. It includes a Canadian military clamouring to impress Britain but under-prepared for the atrocities of trench warfare, an oblivious Governor General and his unfaithful German wife, and dithering Prime Minister Robert Borden, busy playing golf while agonizing over the conscription crisis and the Wartime Elections Act. Meanwhile, tensions simmer between francophones and anglophones as more young soldiers are sent overseas to fight in places whose names they can’t even pronounce – something Hollingsworth has great fun with.

Much of the regular troupe returns (Mac Fyfe, Rick Campbell, Jacob James, Linda Prystawska), joined by some new recruits (Jamie Cavanagh, David Jansen and the wonderful Aviva Armour Ostroff). This ensemble is stronger than ever, and each performer excels at playing numerous characters, their transformations helped along by Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill‘s ornate costumes, and Alice Norton‘s remarkable wigs. Hollingsworth and co-director Deanne Taylor‘s skilled staging ensures seamless transitions in rapid-fire succession.

The Great War has a longer running time than some other instalments in the series. While the first act flies by, the second tries to cram in too much. But it also stands apart for unexpected gravitas amidst the madcap send-ups: Fyfe’s army Grim Reaper delivering death notices to wives in an ammunition factory Campbell’s Colonel Arthur Currie scratching the names of dead soldiers from his roll call list, the ache amplified by Jake Blackwood‘s sound effects and the facial expressions of the exhausted surviving soldiers.

Yet for all its serious turns, the show ranks high in laughs. The enduring popularity of VideoCabaret means many performances sell out, so march over and get tickets while you can.


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