I just finished watching this excellent docu-drama by the National Film Board’s Paul Cowan called “The Kid who Couldn’t Miss“. It’s all about Billy Bishop. It features the regular documentary style reporting, which is very well done, as well as tidbits from “Billy Bishop Goes to War”, by John Gray with Eric Peterson as Bishop and several other characters.
I remember seeing this play when I was a kid, and it got me to thinking about the World Wars and the kind of people they produced – and they did produce people – don’t think that they didn’t. One could argue quite readily that these 2 events have shaped our current civilization for the past century.
But do we remember them, really?
Bishop is a hero, but his story is so tragic, it almost doesn’t bear thinking about. Juxtapose that with the fall of his comrades, and you have a real headache on your hands. Nothing but tragedy, and this from the super-stars of the Great War – the heroes in the sky!
Last winter I went back and forth with John Gray by email, trying to convince him to let VOS have the right to put on the Bishop play this November. Trouble is, he and Peterson decided in the beginning that they didn’t want the show’s message diluted and they certainly didn’t think the show deserved to be served up dinner-theatre style with martinis and coffee. I quite agree, and although I assured him of our intent, I am glad he stuck to his word, for in the end it led me to Thiessen’s Vimy, and in that we were able to convince him to let us perform it in Cobourg’s Victoria Hall.
Along with “Billy Bishop Goes to War”, which has been reprised many times by Gray and Peterson, most recently with Soulpepper in Toronto this past summer, you also have the new-ish film “The Red Baron” which delves into von Richthofen’s life a little bit and shows the other side of the trenches with equal ethos to anything we’ve seen thus far. I highly recommend either show if you’d like to see some interesting details of the lives of these flyers.
But, dig a little further and you’ll find Passchendaele, directed by and starring Paul Gross, which, although highly romanticized, also shows the war as it’s seen from the trenches as well as back home in small town Canada. It’s a tragic but also enlightening look at the battle on a large scale as seen through the microscopic lens of a single pair of eyes.
Most compelling for me was the fear that men showed in the trenches, and how the “down the line” verbal communication was so important. Each soldier was a lifeline to the next man beside him. It makes each death that much more of a profound loss, since it further separates the survivors from each other.
I’ve gone too far with this, but I’ve come back around to Vimy, which I won’t comment on too much, since I hope you’ll come and see it for yourself, but expect more from me on the process of preparing to stage this drama.
More later – joel.