Review: 'VIMY' at Soulpepper

Joseph Szekeres

This electrifying and haunting production of Vern Thiessen’s VIMY cuts deep to the very heart of our human souls; be prepared to have the tissues ready.

According to Soulpepper’s billing, a group of vulnerable Canadian soldiers convalesce in a field hospital after facing Vimy Ridge in World War One.  Each of the four soldiers whom we meet in the hospital represent the four divisions of Canadian troops who represented all parts of the country and who fought together for the first time. Using flashbacks combined with the horrors of their present-day surroundings, the soldiers battle with their wounded psyches.  A young nurse from Nova Scotia, while tending to the soldiers’ wounds both obvious and concealed, must also deal with her own demons resulting from what was thought to have been the war that would end all wars.

Astrid Janson’s set design is a sombre reminder that we have entered a world where fresh faced and recruited young men quickly faced a reality that death is imminent on the battlefield. Initially, upon entrance to the Baillie Theatre, there appears to be four different graves with four soldiers’ helmets positioned respectfully to one side.  As the story unfolds, what we thought were graves become part of a raked stage which provides for a variety of playing levels. John Gzowski and Deanna Choi’s soundscape of twittering birds is shattered by the sound of rapid gunfire and piercing screams while soldiers scramble for cover and safety.

Director Diana Leblanc has created a near flawless production from beginning to end in every respect. Silence is incorporated extremely well to heighten tension and suspense especially in the makeshift hospital. Cross lighting marvellously accentuates transitions of moments of painful flashbacks, private conversations or tense minutes in the trenches.  Costumes are so realistic that one might swear they have been taken from early twentieth century hospitals or army barracks.

I hesitate to single out any of these six highly professional and skilled actors. The Program Notes state: “The characters whom we meet were inspired by real people who lived this history.” Through this inspiration, each performer delivers a gripping and enthralling performance of nuanced characterization and development so much that one will continue to think about this play long after the curtain call.

VIMY continues to August 5 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District.  Visit for further information, ticket prices and sales.  Directed by Diana Leblanc.  With Sebastien Bertrand, Andrew Chown, Tim Dowler-Coltman, Wesley French, Christine Horne, TJ Riley. Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.