Review: This Is War (Tarragon)

Exciting new Toronto theatre with Tarragon’s socially relevant and well-realized This Is War

This Is War, playing in the Tarragon Extra Space, is about Canadian forces in Afghanistan and is loosely based on a true incident that involved the Afghan National Forces as well as the Taliban. The show is structured around the media interviewing the soldiers after their return home about the incident, with most of the story told in flashbacks, but the military action itself is secondary to the interpersonal drama between the characters. While the incident is true, this drama is obviously fictional and is and meant to portray the incredibly high stress of life in such conditions, and the incredibly high stakes that decisions made under such stress can have.

The show is immersive: the minute you walk into the theatre you are surrounded by camouflage netting. Some fantastic directorial choices increase this effect, such as a scene played in total darkness – because that’s exactly how it would be in the middle of a cloudy night in the Panjwaii district of the Kandahar province in Afghanistan. Other night-time scenes are dimly lit from a network of “stars” beyond the canopy of camouflage. Lighting also sharply denotes the interview sections from the memory flashbacks. The lighting and set designs are superb and work together with the action to create an experience that goes far beyond the narrative of the piece.

The performances belong on such a well-conceived stage. The actors begin with such intensity that I immediately felt wartime levels of tension, and they never let that drop during the show, not once. It was impossible not to hear the strain behind the jocular tone of Captain Stephen Hughes’ voice (Ari Cohen), not to pity the painful naiveté of youth in Private Jon Henderson (Ian Lake), not to respect Sergeant Chris Anders’ (Sergio Di Zio) determined attempts to ameliorate every horrendous situation, or to look away from Master Corporal Tanya Young’s thousand-mile stare (Lisa Berry).

Unfortunately there was one element that detracted from my full enjoyment of This Is War. The crux of the conflict between the soldiers was something that rubbed my feminism the wrong way, and my companion felt similarly. I found it even more surprising coming from a female playwright.

Hannah Moscovitch’s script has a beautiful and bold chronological structure. It circles back on itself, replaying scenes as they arise in different characters memories. This serves to maximize tension and intrigue as well emphasize each soldier’s psychological condition during the moment in question.

It’s very exciting to see a new play, especially when it is socially relevant and even more especially when it is this well realized. This Is War is a vibrant addition to the Canadian theatre scene.


  • This Is War is playing at Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgeman Ave) until Feruary 3rd.
  • Shows run Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30pm.
  • Tickets range from $27-$53 (including discounts for students, seniors and groups)with a Pay-What-You-Can 2:30pm matinee on Saturday, January 26. $13 Rush Tickets available at the door for Fridays (on sale at 6pm) & Sundays (on sale at 1pm)
  • Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416.531.1827.

 Photo of Ian Lake by Cylla von Tiedemann