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.

Just Posted

Royal BC Museum set to launch its latest exhibition coup

Victoria institution’s new show on the Maya makes its North American debut May 17

VOS transforms the McPherson into a swamp for Shrek The Musical

Victoria Operatic Society’s musical theatre production appeals to all ages

UnoFest: Pushing boundaries and challenging audiences for 22 years

Annual solo theatre festival kicks off 11 days of inspiring artistry on May 1

Elegant waterfront gala to launch new Ballet Victoria season

Tickets still available for Spring Soiree on April 26: meet the dancers, bid on great auction items

Just looking, or buying? You can find that perfect art piece at Sidney show

Saanich Peninsula Arts and Crafts Society holding Spring Show April 27-28 at Mary Winspear Centre

Peninsula grandmothers salute Roaring ’20s fashion

May 3 event in Sidney benefits Grandmothers Helping African Grandmothers

Belmont secondary’s student-run bistro experiences opening-day rush

Culinary students serving up affordable lunches to fellow classmates

Sooke Community Choir offers up #modernlove

Sooke concerts run from May 3 to 5

Celebration of Light fireworks to feature two new countries

India and Croatia will compete for the first time, alongside Canada

Stephen Fearing brings unique style to concert series

Fearing will play Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Sooke on April 27

Sidney Classical Orchestra hosts former dean of Victoria Conservatory

Canadian pianist Jamie Syer to play pieces by Beethoven, Haydn at Saturday concert in Sidney

REVIEW: Symphony, Jeans ‘n Classic perform jolly good Queen show

Strengthened by UVic Vocal Jazz Ensemble, the group performs tonight and Sunday at the Royal

Most Read