Review: Vimy (Soulpepper)

Wesley French, Tim Dowler-Coltman, Sebastien Bertrand and TJ Riley, photo: Cylla von TiedemannSoulpepper Theatre presents Vimy, playing as part of Canada 150 in Toronto

Continuing with the celebration of Canada 150, Soulpepper presents a play written by Governor General’s Award winning playwright Vern Thiessen. Vimy explores the battle of Vimy Ridge, one of the great battles that shaped the outcome of World War I. In a gut-wrenching and emotionally tumultuous performance, Vimy is a story that will leave you stunned and speechless.

In Vimy, four soldiers suffering from varying forms of life-altering injuries — Jean-Paul (played by Sébastien Bertrand), Will (TJ Riley), Sid (Tm Dowler-Coltman), and Mike (Wesley French) — are being cared for in a field hospital by a nurse, Clare (Christine Horne). For the soldiers and Clare, the circumstances that brought them to that moment seeking salvation in the hospital continually haunts and terrorises them until each become entirely overwhelmed by the memories. These memories are what shape the play.

Vimy is one of those plays that is excruciatingly difficult to love, but love it you will. It is a play that is impeccably performed, a visual masterpiece on stage, but the situation, these relentless memories that make up the production, is exhausting and emotionally draining to watch. It’s hard not to be moved by this.

I took my partner Vance to this performance, and once again, we left the theatre in awe. We’ve always been pleasantly blown away by the production work that goes into a Soulpepper production, and Vimy is no different. The use of the raked stage to create visually grabbing levels and to imply the trenches used in battle was brilliantly used, as is the use of sound and lighting.

Director Diana Leblanc, along with the help of set designer Astrid Janson, lighting designer André du Toit, and sound designer John Gzowski, have managed to create a living movie reel on stage. The lighting filters paired with how the lights flicker and how the actors are lit from the sides rather than from above creates this wonderful grainy and washed-out texture that fits the story beautifully. This is one of the most aesthetically stunning pieces of theatre either of us has seen all year.

We were also equally blown away by the performances. Vance pointed out how convincing their use of mime was, especially with Dowler-Coltman’s portrayal of Sid as he explained what it was like feeling trapped and suffocating in a pit under a pile of dead bodies. Vance expressed how watching him relive that experience made him feel claustrophobia creep in. Likewise with French as Mike describing how he survived being hit with mustard gas. I was particularly moved by Bertrand’s portrayal of Jean-Paul, and in particular his anguish as he reveals his involvement in the execution of his best friend.

Vimy is hardly an easy play to watch; it is not something you see when you are looking for something fun and lighthearted. Vimy is the play you watch when you want to feel entirely and intrinsically moved by the content and the stories therein. This is a war drama that brings these soldiers and citizens to life far better than any documentary.

Details: 

  • Vimy is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until August 4 2017.
  • Performances run Mondays to Saturdays at 7:30 pm with matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays at 1:30 pm, see website for details.
  • Tickets range from $32 – $89, matinees are $35 – $58.
  • Tickets can be purchased online or in person at the box office.
  • Show length is 1 hour 40 minutes without intermission.
  • Audience Advisory: This performance contains fog/haze, strobe lighting, herbal cigarettes, and dramatized violence.

Photo of Wesley French, Tim Dowler-Coltman, Sébastien Bertrand and TJ Riley by Cylla von Tiedemann