Taylor Stewart in the Theatre Criticism class of Patrick Langston.
Voices from the Front: The Radio Show is a pure, emotional power house that commemorates the brave men and women of the Canadian military. It delivers a performance as powerful as a a service at a Cenotaph yet is wholly different.
The show was written by John Cook and Teri Loretto-Valentik from the letters of Canadian Soldiers during World War I and II. This is a piece of verbatim theatre, meaning the majority of the text is preserved as it was written by the individuals who originally wrote the letters; however, they have been added to for the purpose of a flowing narrative or filling in details that would add to the fiction of the show. Using these letters Cook and Loretto-Valentik have created the characters of Will Cooper and his son, Wilfred Cooper. The two are enlisted men serving in WWI and WWII, respectively. The show consists primarily of the actors reading the letters that Will and Wilfred have written to their families.
As the audience was entering the house they are greeted by classic big band songs, complete with phonograph crackle, a set that looks like the antique wooden radio with frosted glass that was on the kitchen counter in my grandparents house and three large vintage microphones. Initially these microphones were a source of stress, so often does the use of microphones in a theatre piece cause more trouble than they are worth but they added to the Radio Show aspect of Voices from the Front. The warmth and nuance present in the voices as the characters deliver the letters is a detail that would have been lost without the use of the microphones, it could not have been done anything other way.
However, the actors getting up and down from the microphones was a distraction. If there had just been a couple extra it could have been completely avoided, and no one would have needed to accidentally hit the stand with their text or try to sneak away as another actor was already speaking. In the second act slightly more character is attempted to be injected into those reading the letters by having them make small comments and reacting to the contents of the letters. Unfortunately, it felt forced and was initially jarring after the first act where this was not done. But, these are legitimately minor issues in the scope of the production.
Cook and Loretto-Valentik have penned a work as impactful as films like Saving Private Ryan or Brothers in Arms. Over the course of these short 2 hours the small peak into the lives of Will and Wilfred feel as real as the letters they are amalgamated from and this is why Voice from the Front hit so hard. The characters may be only small pieces of the contributions from their real life counterparts but they never feel manufactured. Voices from the Front is a reverent thank you made all the more powerful because I saw it closing night on Remembrance Day.
Voices from the Front: The Radio Show ran Nov 8th -11th at the Gladstone. Voices may be done but The Radio Show is an annual tradition for more info visit: www.thegladstone.ca or call (613) 233-4523.