Avisually stunning work, the Vancouver Playhouse has opened its 45th season with The Wars.
Based on Timothy Findlay’s award-winning novel, The Wars brings WWI to life through the eyes of Robert Ross, a sensitive young man from Toronto who enlists in the Canadian army and is sent overseas to help England win the “war to end all wars”. Through basic training in Alberta to the trenches in Europe, we witness Ross’ transform from a quiet and fearful young man to a reluctant leader who ultimately takes a stand after witnessing the incessant bruality and death that is war.
The great appeal of The Wars does not rest with the characters but with the striking images that are invoked through the visual effects and staging. And therein lies the one problem with this Theatre Calgary co-production: the audience never really connects fully with the characters as they become upstaged in many scenes by the “look” of the play.
While Christian Goutsis as Ross does succeed somewhat in his efforts to invoke real life in the trenches, he is constantly fighting (no pun intended) against the various, and numerous, production elements. As a result, the audience is more interested in what they are seeing than in what they are feeling.
When the production does take a backseat to the characters this is where The Wars really shines. There are some truly wonderful moments such as the scenes between Ross and his wheel-chair bound sister, Rowena, wonderfully played by Meg Roe who also does double-duty as the London nurse, Marian.
As well, the relationship between Ross and Private Harris, whom he meets on the boat on their way to Europe, is another highlight. But like a lot of The Wars, the audience is left wanting to see more of the characters and their relationships. We are left questioning the true nature of Ross and Harris’ relationship and wonder what that would have looked like had Playwright and Director Dennis Garnhum allowed more exploration of their connection as people.
While The Wars is definitely more spectacle than character study it is definitely worth “seeing”.