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Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: Billy Bishop Goes to War

Eric Peterson (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

History, Legend and Great Storytelling all Rolled into One
Peterson leaps around the stage almost like a man half his age
by Valerie Cardinal

I have to admit – before seeing Soulpepper Theatre’s production of Billy Bishop Goes to War, I knew Eric Peterson only as grumpy old Oscar Leroy on Corner Gas.

Of course, Billy Bishop Goes to War has been alive much longer than I have; it was written by Peterson and John Gray over 30 years ago, when they were in their early thirties. Gray and Peterson’s show has been performed in New York, London’s West End and more, and has won a Governor General Award.

Now, both men are well into their sixties, and the show has changed as a result. It’s told from the perspective of old Billy Bishop, reflecting on his long-ago actions as a WWI flying ace who became a colonial hero in a time when Canada had a serious inferiority complex. 

“Wow, that’s acting,” I heard a women tell her friend as I left the Segal Centre, and I have to agree.

The only actors are Peterson and Gray, with Peterson doing most of the acting. But Gray is right there with him at his piano, singing songs that compliment and echo Billy Bishop’s musings about war. It shows that the two have been performing this for a long time – the pair have a carefully choreographed chemistry. 

Peterson, Gray (at piano) (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)
Peterson’s performance makes it feel like you’re listening to old Uncle Billy tell you a story. In addition to Billy Bishop, the 64-year-old actor also portrays a dozen other characters of all ages and genders. He leaps around the stage almost like a man half his age, climbing onto Gray’s piano and describing his air battles with all the exuberance of a 12-year-old boy. 

“Wow, that’s acting,” I heard a women tell her friend as I left the Segal Centre, and I have to agree. Peterson is engaging and touching as a man coming to terms with surviving a war most of his friends didn’t. Billy Bishop Goes to War is a little bit of history and a lot of legend. 

Billy Bishop is at the Segal Centre
Read also Joel Fishbane's discussion of the Soulpepper model
Running time: 2h

1 comment:

  1. REALLY can't wait to see this show!
    Tamara Brown


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