‘A wonderful history lesson’


Billy Bishop Goes to War promises to blend history with theatrics

Paul Bogdan
A&C Writer

Billy Bishop Goes to War
The Artesian on 13th
Nov. 9 – 13
7 p.m.
Nov. 15 – 20
8 p.m.; 2 p.m. Sunday
$20 for students, $30 for adults

“It’s a wonderful history lesson,” said Robert Ursan, director of the Golden Apple Theatre’s latest production, Billy Bishop Goes to War. “That’s another thing that I really like about the show – the historical detail that goes on in it.”

If history was one of the periods you slept through in high school, don’t let that deter you from heading to the Artesian this weekend to catch the Golden Apple Theatre’s first show of the year.

“It’s something that everyone can relate to, but at the same time it’s theatrical,” Ursan said.

Billy Bishop Goes to War is the Golden Apple Theatre’s first production of its second season. The theatre company had been in the planning stages for the past few years, but only began its first season of performances last year. The small company’s aim is to provide Regina with theatre shows reflective of its size.

“One of the Golden Apple Theatre’s main thrusts is to be able to do small-scale musical theatre, and you can’t really get much smaller than a two-person show,” Ursan said.

The play’s director expects Billy Bishop Goes to War to help kickoff the new season swimmingly and draw some more attention to new theatre company.

“This show is considered to be one of the great Canadian theatrical classics,” Ursan said. “Every time it’s performed, it’s received so well because it’s so imbued with the Canadian spirit and the Canadian attitude towards the world stage.”

Another one of Golden Apple Theatre’s ambitions is to bring local performers who have left the Queen City back to their hometown.

“Andorlie Hillstrom and I founded the theatre, and our basic idea behind it was that there are a lot of performers who have come out of Regina, but have not actually had the opportunity to perform in Regina,” Ursan said. “They go away and have careers elsewhere, but they don’t actually get hired back in Regina. Last year we were able to bring in the start of what we hope will continue to bring people back.

“Our actors are people who have had really full careers and are performers from here that I’d worked with when they were still in Regina. Now they’re able to come back and perform for us.”

As the title suggests, the play follows Canadian pilot Billy Bishop, who flew for the British Empire during World War I. Bishop was one of the most successful pilots throughout the war.

“[He] was a First World War Canadian war hero and flying ace; he was one of the very first,” Ursan said. “It’s his story about how he ended up being in the military and shows his progression as a person from being young and idealistic and then going off to war to the realities of being involved in these aerial battles. It’s a spectacular story and made all the more wonderful because it’s Canadian and historically true.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

While there may be a dozen or so characters, Billy Bishop Goes to War features only two performers, Ryland Alexander and Wayne Gwillim, but Ursan noted, “It doesn’t seem like there [are] just two people. The stage seems full.

“It’s interesting. Ryland [Alexander] ends up playing eleven or twelve characters of the course of the evening, but primarily, he is the voice of Billy Bishop,” Ursan added. “It’s as if Billy and one of his best mates, who have told this story to many other people, are a service club and have decided to recall some of their war stories and sing some of their old songs from when they were young. A lot of these songs have influence on how the story turns, and how they face the next section of the story-telling process.”

Billy Bishop Goes to War has been performed since the 1970s and is known to depict war in various ways. Conscious of the holiday that the production falls over, Ursan is attempting to direct this production in such a way that the audience can come to its own conclusions on this matter.

“That’s something that we’ve talked a lot about because the show was originally written in the 1970s, and it was written at a time when, primarily, the government of Canada was very much in full flower of being peacenik, and trying to look at Canada as being solely a peacekeeper on the world stage,” Ursan said.

“At the same time, this play tries to balance out the necessity of war with the horror of its reality. I’ve seen other productions of this show through the years, and some take it as being a very anti-war show, and some people take it as being an incredibly pro-war show. I think the reality of it is that people get sucked into positions. The force of history takes over, at which point everyone is hopeless; you have to pick a side. Whether or not it’s actually for or against war, I’m trying to leave it up to the audience.”

Ursan also hopes to draw the audience into the life of someone caught in the midst of major historical events and the effects it has on a person.

“It starts off about how someone grows up and is forced to grow up over the course of time and being forced into war,” Ursan said. “Some of it is hysterically funny, but there are moments of real horror and sadness over the course of the play as well. It’s a remarkable tour de force for the young man who’s playing the main part.”

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