NS reviews

Reviews of theatre and art in Nova Scotia and beyond

Billy Bishop Goes to War a kaleidoscope of colour and emotion

Billy Bishop Goes to War, the Governor General’s award-winning musical by John Gray and Eric Peterson, stars Mark Delaney in a Highland Arts Theatre production in Sydney to Friday. (Chris Walzak)

Highland Arts Theatre turns the 40-year-old classic Billy Bishop Goes to War into a kaleidoscope of colour, passion and story in its 70-minute production, extended through Friday, 8 p.m., due to popular demand.

Over the years Truro-born playwright John Gray and actor Eric Peterson have revisited their musical about the Owen Sound flying ace to combine boyish excitement and high spirits with an awareness of the horror and loss of war.

This fast-paced, funny and theatrically inventive show, directed by Ron Jenkins, stars Mark Delaney in a wonderfully high-energy and emotionally true performance as the boisterous, bumbling soldier who prefers survival over sacrifice.

Delaney is excellent at rapidly transforming into vital characters like a drunken Scot, the British lady who tries to refine and define him, and, remarkably, a French chanteuse for a raw and playful cabaret song about death.

Mark Delaney, in costume by designer Diana MacKinnon Furlong, in Billy Bishop Goes to War. (Chris Walzak)

Delaney moves, parries, dances and “flies” – always in perfectly-timed relationship with pianist, singer and musical director Chuck Homewood – on a marvellously-detailed set with a bold and brilliant lighting design by Ken Heaton.

Heaton’s lights in washes of purple, red, green or yellow flood Kayla Cormier’s set of background boards and puffy clouds with, in the foreground, different lighting in two old-fashioned lamps. Dropping from the ceiling are lightbulbs and tiny planes. The lights become artillery fire with sound design by Tayves Fiddis.

Delaney grabs all the old trunks and suitcases on stage to turn them into taverns, dancing partners and airplanes. He magically builds a convincing airplane out of planks, a coat rack for the propeller and trunks. The sword he carries around is a gear stick.

Clearly the actor, pianist, director and design team love what they do and have put all their heart and soul into a production that bursts with life but is also very moving.

There are three free performances left at 8 p.m. at the Bentinck Street theatre; go online http://www.highlandartstheatre.com or call (902) 565-3637. Highland Arts Theatre, this year’s winner of Arts Nova Scotia’s Creative Community Impact Award,, raised $600,000 through its Radical Access program to offer free tickets during Covid-19. The seats are distanced and masks are mandatory except when eating popcorn.

Mark Delaney and musical director/pianist Chuck Homewood in Billy Bishop Goes to War. (Chris Walzak)

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