Saturday, 27 February 2010

Billy Bishop Goes to War Again. . .

I went to see Soulpepper's production of Billy Bishop Goes To War last week. It's incredible that the two creators and performers - Eric Peterson and John Gray - have been reviving this play over the last few decades ever since it was first written in 1978. You can see Peterson at the top in the first production which graces the jacket of the published play and below it, a photo from Soulpepper's current production. I saw a performance in 1998 at Canstage and was delighted to see it again. Told through a series of reminiscences interspersed with original songs, this is the story of Canada's WWI flying ace Billy Bishop, who rather bumbled his way into becoming one of the most successful fighter pilots of the war, shooting down 72 planes, winning the Victoria Cross and against all odds - actually surviving the war, dying in his sleep at the age of 62. You can see a snippet of the play from this trailer.

Peterson is just marvellous as Bishop (and all the characters he encounters from ignorant upper class twits in the War Office, to saucy French chanteuses). Unfortunately he had to stop the play about ten minutes in to ask a patron to stop texting as the blue light from his cell phone was distracting him. I can never understand the complete disrespect of people who forget to turn their cell phones off, or in this case, deliberately text while a performance is in progress - why on earth do they bother showing up at all? Peterson handled the disruption with class. "The one good thing about the First World War," he said to the audience, "is there were no cell phones!"

With the centenary of WWI just a few years away, I fully expect (hopefully) a number of WWI plays to be revived in theatre companies both big and small. I have my fingers crossed that someone - maybe the Shaw Festival? - will mount Sean O'Casey's The Silver Tassie. Or bring back their marvellous production of Journey's End that they did a few years ago. Might I finally get to see Noel Coward's Post-Mortem? In the meanwhile, Soulpepper is getting a jumpstart. Billy Bishop Goes to War is the perfect segue into their next production, a revival of the 1963 satirical musical Oh What a Lovely War. Oh, yes, I have tickets already.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The struggling independents. . .

If you ever visit Chicago, a trip to the Seminary Co-op Bookstore near the University of Chicago is a must. You can seriously and deliriously get lost in its labyrinth-like underground corridors of books. (You can see some photos at this blog post). They also have a terrific website with its Front Table feature that replicates a physical display of new books and staff picks (you click on the thumbnail of the book and you can read more about it) and they are always posting interesting staff reviews and interviews. And in this day and age when so many university bookstores have reduced their trade sections in favour of installing cell-phone outlets and expanding their t-shirt lines, I use their website as a major source of information on new books published by university presses. In short it's everything an independent bookstore should be - a browsing paradise for its local community with knowledgeable staff , and savvy enough to reach out to booklovers on the internet (it's been years since I've visited - I used to go as a bookseller when Book Expo America was held in the city).

But like all independents they are feeling the financial pinch in the wake of competition from amazon (whose latest hijinks in removing Macmillan books from their site over a battle with e-book pricing has made me boycott them forever - I don't care that they later changed their mind), and now threats from google. Jeff Waxman a bookseller at the Seminary Co-op, posts a thoughtful piece at the Three Percent blog - essential reading for all of us who love the culture of independent bookstores. Read it here. And buy locally and support your independents!