RJ Peters (left) stars in the title role in Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre’s Billy Bishop Goes to War, with Gabriel MacDonald in a musical supporting role. The show runs now through Nov. 4 at the Roxy Theatre. Photo by Jo-Ann Richards

REVIEW: Blue Bridge’s Billy Bishop stunningly brilliant

Monday reviewer Sheila Martindale lauds RJ Peters’ portrayal of the First World War airman

Sheila Martindale

Monday Magazine contributor

Lead actor RJ Peters is superb in Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre’s production of Billy Bishop Goes to War, perhaps the most challenging he has faced in his career.

He puts in a huge amount of energy – one wonders how he can remember everything in the telling of the story. Peters not only plays the title role, he portrays around 17 different characters, including all his instructors, girls, mentors and even royalty.

There is also the matter of demonstrating how he flies those cramped fighter planes, machine gun in hand, vanquishing the enemy, some in very close calls. If he is not exhausted doing all this, his audience is positively perspiring and drooping at the end!

Yes, I know that Eric Peterson did all of that when this show was first remounted in 1998, but since he was one of the playwrights, I suppose he had a bit of a prior handle on the dialogue and actions.

Peters’ right-hand man Gabriel MacDonald plays the music, both for all the songs and for the dramatic background. He also sings and adds bits to the dialogue, providing a very solid and reliable tone to the play.

Rebekah Johnson’s lighting and Guy Segal’s projection design play no small parts here, adding to the general high drama. Not to forget Jacqueline Gilchrist’s First World War costuming and Hans Safekow’s interesting and functional set.

The story, of course, is quite fascinating. A young Canadian or ‘Colonial’ with not much to recommend him at first, Bishop joins up to fight for England. After the horrible mud and difficulties of battle on the ground, he finds flying and comes to love the feeling of freedom in the air. Flight was, of course, in its infancy in those days of the early 20th century.

With his ‘devil may care’ attitude, Bishop finds himself well suited to this kind of warfare, and quickly becomes a legend given the number of German planes he manages to shoot down. He collects medals along the way before he is finally retired, and lives to raise a family then become a flight trainer in the next war.

The play initially garnered some criticism from anti-war groups who claimed it promoted a pro-war attitude. But I think they missed the point.

The fact is this particular production, directed by Jacob Richmond, is stunningly brilliant. It runs at the Roxy Theatre on Quadra now through Nov. 4 and should be on everyone’s must-see list.

Go to bluebridgetheatre.ca or call 250-382-3370 for tickets.

Live theatre

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Friends, family suprise Current Swell singer and new wife with socially distant wedding

‘We just thought we were going over there to have a glass of champagne and do some paperwork’

Victoria art gallery provides Open Space in an online way

View Chantal Gibson’s recent show on the web, hear Indigenous stories on Instagram starting Sunday

Victoria brewery throws support behind still-operating restaurants

Vancouver Island Brewing initiates #TakeOutTuesday to keep local eateries in the public eye

LIVE MUSIC: Artist in Residence reaching into the community

Kathryn Calder to perform livestream show on YouTube channel this Friday, April 3

Victoria vocalist Maria Manna reaches out to hard-hit Italy with special online song

Jazz singer to perform ‘Hymn to Freedom’ with Italian lyrics on Facebook at 2 p.m. Monday

After 37 years, Campbell River Arts Council annual members’ show goes online

38th Annual Members Show shifted from physical gallery to website

COVID-19: Vancouver Island man forges hearts for his community

Dave Kasprick has already given out approximately 400, plans to make it 600

Hip tradition sing-along planned again for Canadians April 2

The Tragically Hip’s Paul Langlois is encouraging all to join him virtually in a’Porch Session.’

Vancouver Island musicians in quarantine thank neighbours with backyard performance

Nanaimo Chamber Orchestra director Karl Rainer and his sons play for those in self-isolation

Order of Canada Vancouver Island musician pens ‘The Ballad of Bonnie Henry’

Qualicum Beach lawyer and saxophonist Phil Dwyer notes health officer has become a ‘folk hero’

Campbell River journalist launches Isolationpalooza II

Featuring all local musicians, a volunteer virtual concert, of sorts

6.5-magnitude earthquake in Idaho shakes B.C. Interior

An earthquake was reportedly felt just before 5 p.m. throughout the Okanagan

Most Read