Voices From The Front evokes the words and memories of two world wars

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Voice from the Front. Plosive Productions.

Photo courtesy of Plosive Productions

 

Voices FromThe Front: The Radio Show

Conceived by John Cook and Teri Loretto-Valentik

A Plosive production at the Gladstone Theatre to Nov. 11

On one level, Voices From The Front — the latest entry in Ottawa theatre’s popular Radio Show series — may seem simplicity itself. Yet its impact can be powerful.

There’s a row of microphones along the front of the Gladstone Theatre’s playing area. Behind, there’s a row of chairs for the performers as they await those moments when they come forward to read. And in one corner, there’s a piano and the three singing Gladstone Sisters who will be making their own important contribution to the evening.

It’s the standard format for an engaging annual event that revisits the glory days of broadcasting with make-believe recreations of old-time programming.

In past years, Winnie The Pooh and the noirish world of The Maltese Falcon have been affectionately brought to life at the Gladstone by Plosive Productions. But this year strikes a more thoughtful and sombre tone.

John Cook and Teri Loretto-Valentik have prepared a sensitive script fuelled by the language of two world wars: the language both of the leaders at the top and — perhaps most important —  the words and emotions of those who served and died at the front as well as those who stayed at home.

The result is both a quiet celebration of heroism and a lamentation for lives destroyed. The focus is on two generations of a fictional family called the Coopers: they provide the filter for the real-life letters and other source material collected for the purpose of this show.

Six actors have been cast to evoke the contrasting sensibilities of the First and Second World Wars — Katie Bunting, David Gerow, Michelle LeBlanc, Chris Ralph, Alex Zwierzchowski and Laurence Wall. And under Teri Loretto-Valentik’s quietly assured direction, the evening achieves an unmistakeable resonance. There’s no grandstanding among these actors — witness Chris Ralph’s restrained but moving delivery of some of Winston Churchill’s most famous speeches or the economy of Michelle LeBlanc’s body language in expressing both joy and sorrow. Every performer finds connections with the human dimension provided by the  material. And a special thanks to actor David Whiteley who filled in for an absent Laurence Wall the other night: his sensitive reading of one of legendary CBC correspondent Matthew Halton’s most famous war dispatches provided some of the evening’s most memorable moments.

The Gladstone Sisters — Robin Guy, Nicole Milne and Doreen Taylor-Claxton — are as always a welcome presence, and here they prove a genuine asset in helping the production negotiate more than one mood change. We may get the sweet, rueful nostalgia of It’s A Long Way To Tipperary but we also honour an intensely felt musical setting of In Flanders Fields.

To be sure, it’s a stretch of the imagination to suggest that radio broadcasting,  as we experience it here,  existed during the First World War. And although Canada’s ban on margarine was temporarily lifted in 1917, that amusing Parkay commercial seems somewhat out of place given that the brand didn’t exist before 1937. But we mustn’t quibble. This instalment of the Radio Show is one of the best that the people at Plosive have given us.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman,  photo courtesy of Plosive Theatre

 

Director: Teri Loretto-Valentik

Set: Ivo Valentik

Sound: Melinda Roy

Lighting: David Magladry

Costume designer not listed

 

Cast of voice actors

Katie Bunting

David Gerow

Michelle LeBlanc

Chris Ralph

Laurence Wall

David Whiteley (November 9)

Alex Zwierzchowski

 

Gladstone Sisters

Robin Guy (music director and pianist)

Nicole Milne

Doreen Taylor-Claxton

 

 


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