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Love and humour shine during a time of death in ‘Unity’

CCPA’s newest production runs through Dec. 1 in Oak Bay
Stephie Bright, Chelsea MacEwan and Jordan Holloway star in Unity (1918), a Gothic romance set during the horror and savagery between the First World War and the onset of the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. (Andrew Barrett Photo)

It was 101 years ago when the relief of the First World War armistice was disrupted by the savage realities of the influenza pandemic.

Love in a time of death is the backdrop for Canadian College of Performing Arts’ current production of Unity (1918) set in Unity, Sask. at the end of the First World War. The show continues Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the CCPA performance hall on Elgin Road in Oak Bay.

As a young man and woman meet, the nation is grieving the 56,638 Canadian military members it lost in the war, yet it comes at the onset of the worst pandemic in civilized history. To this day, the death toll is uncertain, but estimates range between 20 million and 100 million worldwide. The flu killed about 55,000 people in Canada and 650,000 in the U.S.

“It’s a story of the freshness and beauty of new love, but also about the savage death underway between the end of [the First World War] and the emerging influenza pandemic,” said guest director Glynis Leyshon.

Leyshon has been in and out of Victoria in her lifetime. She was the artistic director for the Belfry Theatre from 1986 t0 1997 and held the same role for the Vancouver Playhouse from 1997 to 2009.

It’s her first time directing Unity (1918), and her fourth time collaborating with CCPA’s Studio Ensemble. She previously worked on Dangerous Liaisons (2012), Sense and Sensibility (2014) and Ruddigore (2017).

Director Glynis Leyshon returns for her fifth collaboration with the Canadian College of Performing Arts’ Ensemble Studio to stage Unity (1918) from Nov. 18 to Dec. 1 at the college’s Performance Hall on Elgin Road. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

“There is a surprising amount of humour and it’s a highly poetic story that flows almost like a dream,” Leyshon said.

Unity was written in 2000 by Kevin Kerr and won a Governor General’s Award. Kerr now teaches at the University of Victoria and actually met during rehearsals with the Studio Ensemble students. He will be in attendance for one of the shows.

“Kerr creates a world of love and grace in the darkest of circumstances – a world where youthful passions and innocent dreams collide with a world torn apart by war and disease,” Leyshon said. “It’s going to be interesting [to have him in house], to see what he thinks of our interpretations.

Unity (1918) runs Nov. 29 and 30 at 2 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 1, at 2 p.m in the CCPA performance hall, 1701 Elgin Rd.

Tickets are $27.50 for adults, $23.50 for seniors (65+), and $18.50 for youth under 30, and are available online at or by calling 250-595-9970.

The 2 p.m. show on Nov. 30 is a ‘relaxed performance’ that is open to everyone, but is intended to be particularly welcoming of anyone who may find the theatre environment challenging.

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