Canada’s history has been cannon fodder for VideoCabaret for a quarter of a century. They’ve mounted satirical plays that take everything from the FLQ crisis to the Cold War, putting the spotlight on politics and revealing them as tragicomic stories that have shaped our nation’s destiny.
A remount of the highly successful The Great War, chronicling the early 20th-century atrocities of WW1, is no exception to the company’s rule of thumb — play it for the laughs. But the laughter is a very queer laughter indeed, as a finely tuned form of melodrama simultaneously educates, entertains and throws the grim realities of mindless slaughter into high relief.
Against a backdrop of military carnage stand politicians playing golf and strategizing in the manicured fields and drawing rooms of our nation’s capital. A colourful cast of characters includes Queen Victoria’s son, the Duke of Connaught, residing at Rideau Hall with his Prussian Duchess, and taking part in hilarious tableaus highlighting the eccentricities of one very odd and amusing couple. The entire cast shines as a superb example of ensemble acting that relies upon sharply nuanced physicality and great emotional range.
The design team includes the immaculate pinpoint lighting of Andy Moro, with sets by Moro and collaborator Jim Plaxton, while Astrid Janson and Sarah Armstrong fill a stark space with beautifully grotesque costumes that give each character a bold individuality as well as gorgeous stylistic connections to all of the theatrical elements surrounding them.
Although all of the scenes are played with seamless agility, as seven actors move in and out of finely directed tableaus, the battle scenes are perhaps the most impressive and startling. Moments of dialogue that include raw homosocial interaction between men are cut with trench-crawling, bayonet-wielding bravado.
Written and directed by Michael Hollingsworth, The Great War is a national treasure lurking in the somewhat unlikely backspace of a favourite Toronto bar. The overall effect of wandering into the Cameron House, taking your seat and being led through the intense comedy and darkness of VideoCabaret’s historical journey is not to be missed.
The Great War opened on Oct 29 for a limited engagement, through November, at the Cameron House (498 Queen St W). Find out more at videocab.ca.