Canada’s Boys in World War I
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I – The Great War, The War to End All Wars, Timothy Findlay’s The Wars seems more poignant than ever. Now on stage at London’s Grand Theatre, the play certainly reinforces the Remembrance Day message – Lest We Forget.
Based on Timothy Findley’s novel, and adapted for stage by Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum, the story is told in a mix of haunting memories and horrific reality. It’s a sobering look at the Canadian boys sent off to fight in Europe.
Robert Ross comes from a well-to-do Toronto family, and is shipped first to Western Canada for basic training, then overseas to war. He learns too much, too fast. In fact, there is a scene where his friends take him to a whorehouse. Perhaps it is meant to be comic relief, but it turns out to be more disturbing: Robert is so innocent that he isn’t sure of what’s expected. He faces the enemy with the same innocence, and is forced to grow up far too quickly.
We learn through his flashbacks, that he is fighting his own internal war. He is overcome with guilt about something that happened before he left home. Also in flashbacks, we learn he had a strained relationship with his mother. Pile on top of that all the worst things that happened in WWI, and you know the outcome can’t be good. He and his fellow soldiers are lost, both body and mind. In fact, the play comes to a shocking conclusion; Robert reaches a fate that is actually worse than death.
Alex Furber is excellent as Robert Ross. We feel his innocence turn to anguish, and his torment is sincere. Georgina Beaty gives a very poignant performance as Rowena, Robert’s sister, who has a disability. The Privates, Sergeants, and Captains all give excellent performances, adding to the play’s credibility.
This is a horrendous picture of war. Most audience members will never experience anything like this in their lives. We need this painful reminder of what the young men did on behalf of our country.
In sharp contrast, when we first entered the theatre, cheerful war time songs were being broadcast. Suddenly, those catchy tunes bear no resemblance to the awful action on stage.
The Wars is not for those who are easily upset. It is meant to disturb. But it is also a way to be reminded of the horrors of war. We need to remember those 61,000 young Canadians who lost their lives, as well as the 172,000 who were injured. And that does not include those who came home shell-shocked, never to be the same. Even though 100 years have passed since The Great War, we can never forget. The story told in this play will stay with us forever.
Timothy Findley’s The Wars continues at the Grand Theatre, London until November 11. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.
Photo: Alex Furber as Robert Ross and Georgina Beaty as Rowena. Photos by Dahlia Katz.
Timothy Findley’s The Wars
Adapted and Directed by Dennis Garnhum
Performed by Christopher Bautista, Georgina Beaty, Kevin Bundy, Jenni Burke, Frank Chung, Alex Furber, Katherine Gauthier, Omar Alex Khan, Jeff Lillico, Danik McAfee, Jan Alexandra Smith, Braeden Soltys, Edmund Stapleton, Marcel Stewart, Shannon Taylor, John Wamsley.
Produced by the Grand Theatre
Spriet Stage, Grand Theatre, London
October 23 to November 11, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson