Stephie Bright, Chelsea MacEwan and Jordan Holloway star in Unity (1918), a Gothic romance set during the horror and savagery between the First World War and the onset of the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. (Andrew Barrett Photo)

Love and humour shine during a time of death in Unity

CCPA’s newest show runs Nov. 28 to Dec. 1 in Oak Bay

It was 101 years ago when the relief of the First World War armistice was disrupted by the savage realities of the influenza pandemic.

Love in a time of death is the backdrop for Canadian College of Performing Arts’ next play, Unity (1918) set in Unity, Sask., at the end of the First World War in 1918.

The nation was still grieving the 56,638 Canadian military members it lost when a young couple meet. And yet it’s at the onset of the worst pandemic in civilized history. To this day the death toll is uncertain, with a wide range of estimates from 20 to 100 million people worldwide. It killed about 55,000 people in Canada and 650,000 in the U.S.

The play runs on Nov. 28, 29, 30 and Dec. 1 at the college’s own theatre on Elgin Road in Oak Bay.

“It’s a story of the freshness and beauty of new love, but also about the savage death underway between the end of [the First World War] and the emerging influenza pandemic,” said guest director Glynis Leyshon.

Leyshon has been in and out of Victoria in her lifetime. She was the artistic director for the Belfry Theatre from 1986 t0 1997 and held the same role for the Vancouver Playhouse from 1997 to 2009.

It’s her first time directing Unity (1918), and her fourth time collaborating with CCPA’s Studio Ensemble. She previously worked on Dangerous Liaisons (2012), Sense and Sensibility (2014) and Ruddigore (2017).

“There is a surprising amount of humour and it’s a highly poetic story that flows almost like a dream,” Leyshon said.

Unity was written in 2000 by Kevin Kerr and won a Governor General’s Award. Kerr now teaches at the University of Victoria and actually met with the Studio Ensemble students at where Unity (1918) will be presented in its Performance Hall. He will be in attendance for one of the shows.

“Kerr creates a world of love and grace in the darkest of circumstances – a world where youthful passions and innocent dreams collide with a world torn apart by war and disease,” Leyshon said. “It’s going to be interesting [to have him in house], to see what he thinks of our interpretations.

Unity (1918) runs Thursday, Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 29, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 30, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Dec. 1, at 2 p.m, in the Performance Hall of the Canadian College of Performing Arts, 1701 Elgin Rd.

Tickets are $27.50 for adults, $23.50 for seniors (65+), and $18.50 for youth under 30, and are available online at ccpacanada.com/unity-1918 or by calling 250-595-9970.

The Nov. 30, 2 p.m show is a CCPA ‘relaxed performance’ that is open to everyone, but is intended to be particularly welcoming of anyone who may find the theatre environment challenging.

reporter@oakbaynews.com

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