Iconic Canadian play ‘Billy Bishop Goes to War’ comes to Peterborough

One performance only of award-winning musical play on June 12 at the Nexicom Studio at Showplace Performance Centre

Veteran actor William Colgate stars as Billy Bishop (and 18 other characters) and 16-year-old Cameron Gibson stars as the pianist in the Dot the T Productions production of John MacLachlan Gray and Eric Peterson's iconic Canadian play "Billy Bishop Goes to War", which runs for one performance only on June 12, 2018 at the Nexicom Studio at Showplace Performance Centre. (Photo: Dot the T Productions)
Veteran actor William Colgate stars as Billy Bishop (and 18 other characters) and 16-year-old Cameron Gibson stars as the pianist in the Dot the T Productions production of John MacLachlan Gray and Eric Peterson's iconic Canadian play "Billy Bishop Goes to War", which runs for one performance only on June 12, 2018 at the Nexicom Studio at Showplace Performance Centre. (Photo: Dot the T Productions)

Peterborough audiences will have one chance to see the classic Canadian play that CBC calls “essential viewing”, when Dot the T Productions brings Billy Bishop Goes to War to the Nexicom Studio at Showplace Performance Centre in Peterborough at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 12th.

First staged 40 years ago, the two-man musical play was written by playwright and composer John MacLachlan Gray (18 Wheels, Rock and Roll, Don Messer’s Jubilee, Health, Amelia: The Girl Who Wants to Fly) and actor Eric Petersen (Street Legal, Corner Gas, and This is Wonderland).

The two men also performed in the original 1978 production in Vancouver. The play went on to tour for Canada for 16 months and played in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, London’s West End, the Edinburgh Festival Mainstage, and both on and off Broadway. It eventually won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama, the Chalmers Award, and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award. It was made into a 2010 film also starring Peterson and Gray, who also reprised their roles in a Soulpepper production in 2009, 2010, and 2017.

The Peterborough production, directed by Joan Bendon, stars William Colgate as Billy Bishop (playing 18 character roles) with Cameron Gibson as the pianist. Dot the T Productions toured the show across Muskoka last year at sold-out venues.

“William Colgate’s portrayal of the Canadian flying ace (and numerous other characters) transported us directly into the recruitment office, the barracks, the cockpit and finally the aerial battle dances of the First World War,” says Peterborough resident Janet Lafortune. “We left having spent an intimate evening, not with an actor, but with Billy Bishop himself. Truly a ‘tour de force’.”

VIDEO: “Billy Bishop Goes To War” with William Colgate and Cameron Gibson

One of the most popular and widely produced plays in Canadian theatre, Billy Bishop Goes to War dramatizes the story of William Avery “Billy” Bishop Jr., the Canadian flying ace of the First World War.

When he was 15, Bishop launched his first flying craft (built out of an orange crate and bed sheets) from the roof of his house, only to crash into his mother’s rose bushes. At the age of 17, he entered the Royal Military College of Canada, where he was soon deemed a “convicted liar, a cheat and the worst student — the bottom of the barrel.”

However, he would then go on to shoot down 72 enemy planes during the First World War, receiving the Victoria Cross (the United Kingdom’s highest award for gallantry “in the presence of the enemy”), and eventually rising to the rank of Air Marshal. During the Second World War, the Owen Sound native also played an important role in recruiting for the Royal Canadian Air Force and in promoting the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

The musical play "Billy Bishop Goes to War" dramatizes the life of First World War Canadian flying ace William "Billy" Bishop, pictured here in 1917 in the cockpit of his Nieuport Scout while he was with No. 60 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. (Photo: DND Archives, AH-407A)
The musical play “Billy Bishop Goes to War” dramatizes the life of First World War Canadian flying ace William “Billy” Bishop, pictured here in 1917 in the cockpit of his Nieuport Scout while he was with No. 60 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. (Photo: DND Archives, AH-407A)

In Billy Bishop Goes to War, Bishop recounts his battles and the ecstasy of flying, occasionally singing and enacting his exploits as a fighter pilot. The play begins with a nostalgic look back on his early days as a cadet and very quickly jumps to the haunting triumphs and tribulations of his days as Canada’s celebrated WWI flying ace.

Through anecdotes and memories, music and song, the story explores the themes of the realities of war, survival, the nature of heroism, and the formation of Canada’s national identity.

“We’re excited to be working with Dot the T Productions to bring this exceptional Canadian musical to Peterborough audiences in the Nexicom Studio,” says Showplace General Manager Emily Martin.

Air Vice Marshal William "Biily" Bishop chats with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in England in 1940. (Photo: DND Archives, PL-091)
Air Vice Marshal William “Biily” Bishop chats with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in England in 1940. (Photo: DND Archives, PL-091)

Portraying Billy Bishop, William Colgate has been a professional actor for almost 40 years. A selection of his stage work includes Map of The World (Canadian Stage), The Tempest (Dream In High Park), Pal Joey (Tarragon Theatre), and Sister Mary Ignatious Explains It All For You (National Arts Centre).

Cameron Gibson, as the piano player, is only 16 years old but already has years of acting to his credit having begun his theatre life at the age of seven as a Lollipop Kid and Citizen of Oz in the Huntsville Festival of the Arts/Rotary production of Wizard Of Oz. He has completed his Royal Conservatory grade 8 piano exam and is currently studying repertoire at the grade 9 level.

The show is directed by Joan Bendon, who has created and directed both original and adapted live entertainments and films for the corporate sector. For the theatre, she has directed works including What The Butler Saw and Lion In Winter for Cyclos Theatre, The Dumbwaiter at Toronto Fringe, and A Christmas Carol for Huntsville Theatre Co.

Directed by Joan Bendon, "Billy Bishop Goes to War" starts William Colgate as Billy Bishop and Cameron Gibson as the pianist. (Photos: Dot the T Productions)
Directed by Joan Bendon, “Billy Bishop Goes to War” starts William Colgate as Billy Bishop and Cameron Gibson as the pianist. (Photos: Dot the T Productions)

The Peterborough production, sponsored by Farquharson Pineiro Law Office, will be staged at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 12th in the Nexicom Studio. Tickets are $30 ($25 for seniors) and are available now in person at the Showplace Box Office (290 George St. N., Peterborough), by phone at 705-742-7469, on online at www.showplace.org.

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