Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre is offering a fresh take on the classics with its production of George Bernard Shaw’s tale of love and war, Arms and The Man.
This pacifist comedy is almost 120 years old, yet the subject matter, the jokes (well, most anyway) and lessons are still relatable today. But it’s the direction by Glynis Leyshon that brings this play into the modern millennia, even if the setting, costumes and story are stuck in the time of the Serbo-Bulgarian war (1885-86), almost 10 years before it was written.
Leyshon’s plentiful use of physical comedy heightened the humour in this satire and reminds us not to take things so seriously all the time (which is a welcome reminder for me, I’ll admit.)
This star-studded cast brings vitality and hilarity to Shaw’s script, with female lead Amada Lisman home from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to take on her first Shaw as Raina, the Bulgarian Officer’s daughter with hopelessly romantic views of life and war. Raina is engaged to Sergius (Jay Hindle), a solider whose status is more impressive than his fortitude.
Dylan Smith (who played Jacques in Blue Bridge’s inaugural production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It and who most recently understudied Paul Gross and appeared on Broadway alongside Kim Cattrall in Noel Coward’s Private Lives) brings depth in the role of Captain Bluntschli, who climbs in Raina’s window in an attempt to escape Bulgarian soldiers hot on his tail.
Lighting by Rebekah Johnson and sound designed by Brian Linds (who also plays Raina’s father Major Petkoff) are especially exciting during the pursuit scenes, with pounding shells lighting up the night sky (A beautiful snow-covered stand of birch trees skillfully painted and recycled from Pacific Opera Victoria’s production of Vanessa last season).
Recent UVic grad Nathan Brown did a remarkable job with sets and costumes, giving the production an elegant and earthy feel. The simple-yet-grand window in Raina’s bedroom and her four-poster bed built from tree branches almost appeared to be growing up from the ground she walked on. The ahem … lllllllibrary , what could have been a full-time job to build, was represented by small, artfully placed stacks of gorgeous antique books.
Refined dresses, luxurious robes and fancy waistcoats for the aristocracy, impeccable military uniforms for the soldiers and the gypsy-inspired dress for sassy servant Louka (newcomer Vanessa Holmes) brought us perfectly into Balkan high society at wartime.
Holmes performed with such ambition and confidence that it made the maid stand out, even putting her on the same level (or even higher) intellectually than those she served. Leyshon’s choice not to give Louka as much physical comedy as the rest of the characters also added to this notion.
Another stand out was Jacob Richmond as servant Nicola, who made his entrance with the elegance of a maladroit hunchback. It was a pleasure to watch him, almost as in slow motion, as he bumbled along, messing up almost ever order he was given.
Leyshon’s choice to go heavy on the physical comedy was a good one especially when it came to this roll, as it made another servant stand out when he could easily have faded into the background.
Amanda Lisman as Raina was a ton of fun to watch, especially those moments when even she gets tired of the game of romantic charades she’s been playing. Lisman‘s portrayal of Raina’s more authentic alter ego was a refreshing blow to the upper-class farce she’s been living, leading to some of the most genuine moments in the show, which can seem a little silly at times. But the theatre was filled with laughter opening night and people having an entertaining night out at the theatre. M