Canadian history and a satiric cabaret aren’t words you usually see the same sentence.
But all that has changed, thanks to writer-director Michael Hollingsworth.
Since the 1970s, the Toronto theatre veteran has flipped our country’s history on its head with his award-winning VideoCabaret, a black box theatre show that recounts Canada’s beginnings. Every single bit of it.
The Great War is Hollingsworth’s sixth instalment in his epic eight-piece The History of the Village of the Small Huts (1914-18).
The play, which retells Canada’s involvement in the First World War, opened May 6 at downtown’s Cameron House and runs all spring.
It stars notable Toronto actors Greg Campbell, Richard Alan Campbell, Richard Clarkin, Kerry Ann Doherty, Mac Fyfe, Anand Rajaram and Dylan Roberts, with lighting and set design by Andy Moro and Jim Plaxton, and costumes by Astrid Janson and Sarah Armstrong.
The actors perform on a small stage in short scenes, with painted white faces resulting in a production that is fast-paced, almost like a graphic novel. The performances are also mounted black-box style, in that the whole theatre is dark save for when actors appear onscreen.
Between rehearsals, Riverdale actor Richard Alan Campbell spoke on Hollingsworth’s immense project and the value of learning about our country.
Campbell, who has been involved in VideoCabaret for five seasons, plays three characters in the piece: Sir Arthur W. Currie, a general in the war who led our troops, politician Arthur Meighen and Henri Bourassa, a Quebec politician who is seen by many historians as the father of Canadian nationalism.
You’ve described the production as larger-than-life … what other aspects of VideoCabaret would you highlight to people who haven’t seen it before?
RAC: (Our) costumes are stunning. And how they are created is absolutely amazing.
Basically, once the accoutrement of the military uniforms are created, (the designers) use found objects to make what one might find on a soldier’s jacket.
Under the lights it looks like what you might see on a soldier’s jacket, but really if you look close up, it’s a juice bottle, or those buttons … are beer bottle tops.
What do you think of the whole idea behind VideoCabaret?
RAC: I don’t think there’s anything like it in the world, to be honest. I’ve seen versions of black box theatre here in Canada but I’ve never seen anything like this where the lighting design … has actors acting on pinpoints of light.
What’s remarkable about this show is people sometimes feel 16 lights can be limiting but actually it spurs all kinds of creativity.
It just adds to the hypnotic, hallucinogenic look of it. People kind of just get lost in the light because of these scenes are coming out of total blackness.
What do you think of Hollingsworth’s retelling of our history?
RAC: My experience in the last five years is that people are either shocked or surprised…they didn’t know Canadian history could be so exciting, or salacious or interesting.
American history always seemed much more exciting and interesting than Canadian history, and that’s just down to the way it was taught.
They didn’t teach us the good stuff.
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