Natasha Lomonossoff from the theatre criticism class of Patrick Langston at the University of Ottawa
With exceptional vocal performances and material inspired by letters of Canadian soldiers at the front of the two world wars, Plosive Productions’ work Voices from the Front strikes a tone that is both realistic and touching. The play, a work co-created by Teri Loretto-Valentik and John Cook and directed by the former, is presented in the tradition of the Gladstone’s annual radio play and narrates the experience of war in the format of a radio broadcast. The staging aspect of this format, however, takes a back seat to the letters and speeches which are read out loud to the audience; it is the delivery of these in which the show derives most of its emotional strength.
Dividing the content of the wars into two acts, the play tells the fictional story of William Cooper, a serviceman in the First World War, whose letters between him and his loved ones (which are inspired by the correspondences of real soldiers) are interspersed with news broadcasts and testimonials of other people involved in the war effort. His son, Wilfrid, eventually follows in his steps to serve in the air force in the Second World War.
With a smooth tone, Bunting portrays William’s sister, and Wilfrid’s fiancée, Alice, with elegance and charm. Both her voice and posture contribute to the credibility of her characters’ stage presence. Her testimony as a nurse in a field hospital during the war, who laments the needless bloodshed caused by fighting is also effective. Chris Ralph also delivers engaging performances throughout the first and second acts. From the unsure voice of Will as a young recruit during WWI to the calm, stoic speeches of Winston Churchill, Ralph’s vocal range is impressive. With Will in particular, the viewer gets a nearly real sense of the conditions of life for soldiers in the trenches. And it is at creating an authentic atmosphere of war that the play achieves most success. The performances of Alex Zwierzchowski as a surviving soldier traumatized by the carnage at the Battle of the Somme (in which the real-life Newfoundland regiment suffered many losses) and Laurence Wall as a CBC reporter recounting the horrors of the concentration camps at the end of the WWII also serve to augment the credibility of the play’s portrayal of war.
While the wartime songs sung by the Gladstone Sisters (Robin Guy, Nicole Milne and Doreen Taylor-Claxton) complement the show’s atmosphere and the old-style “commercial breaks” provide comic intervals from the serious subject matter, the radio broadcast format is not quite as striking as the stories themselves that are told by the actors. Indeed, it is as if the illusion of the actors being in a radio station reading material into a microphone does not quite hold on stage where one can easily see them. In spite of this element of the show falling a bit flat, Voices from the Front provides an experience that is still emotionally impactful.
Voices from the Front continues until November 11 at the Gladstone Theatre. http://www.thegladstone.ca/voices-from-the-front-the-radio-show/ / 613-233-4523