Billy Bishop tours Muskoka… and he’s brilliant!

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By Bryan Dearsley

One of the many benefits of being a writer is you often get to hear about things before the general public. And while sometimes the ‘news’ that’s shared with us can be a little on the, well, less-than-exciting side of things, every now and then something comes along that causes a little shot of excitement.

Such was the case when a press release crossed my desk about new professional theatre company Dot the T Productions who were touring John MacLachlan Gray’s brilliant Billy Bishop Goes To War across Muskoka. Written in collaboration with Eric Petersen, the play tells the incredible story of Canadian fighter ace Billy Bishop who, during World War 1, not only scored numerous downed enemy, but also lived to tell the tale (at the time, a fighter pilot’s life expectancy was counted in weeks rather than months).

Carrying on a Muskoka theatre tradition that continues to bring incredible acting talent to our doorstep – something that’s also done by Gravenhurst’s superb Summer Theatre program – the clever folks at Dot the T didn’t only send a press release, but were kind enough to invite this writer to a sneak preview of their production. A long-time history fan, like many Canadians my knowledge of Bishop’s exploits were passable, but I knew little of the man himself.

Under the leadership and artistic direction of Jan Jacklin and directed by Joan Bendon – both full-time residents of Muskoka and long-time theatre pros – Billy Bishop brings the Canadian hero to life in a very believable way. Telling the story is actor William Colgate who plays Bishop (along with some 18 other characters) with great skill and humour as he regales us with this remarkable story.

As Jacklin told me afterwards: “Bill’s been a professional actor for a long time, and it’s as if he’s been rehearsing the whole time for this role.”

She’s right. Colgate plays the role with passion, great skill, and is remarkably convincing.

A Different War

Lieutenant-Colonel Bishop

We first meet Billy as he sits in his chair post-war reminiscing as he flicks through an old photo album. Accompanied throughout the two act play by the incredibly talented 16 year-old Cameron Gibson on piano, Colgate quickly draws us into the story as he shares anecdotes of his – well, Bishop’s (that’s how good he is in the role!) – journey from cheating student to seasoned war hero.

As the play progresses, Colgate masterfully tackles Bishop’s transition from raw recruit to air ace as the war rages. Remarkably, as we learn, the changes all took place in only a month, with Bishop becoming increasingly cynical about the conflict as he sees its tragic destruction close up. Nowhere is this more telling than his description of the last kill of the war, when its senselessness is revealed in the simple recounting of the enemy aircraft’s crew tumbling slowly, inexorably to their death. Gripping, sobering, first-rate theatre.

“It was a different world up there. It was a different war,” we’re told. And as we’re reminded, it’s one we should never forget.

Dot the T’s superb production of Billy Bishop Goes to War is a fitting tribute to the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1. It’s not only an epic piece of Canadiana, it’s also a reminder of the incredible sacrifices made by so many men and women during wartime. And it’s also a superb and sleek introduction to an exciting new player on Canada’s professional theatre in Dot the T Productions.

Tickets are still available for the following performances:

  • Gravenhurst, Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre – Nov 9th (doors open 6:30pm, show starts 7:30pm – ticket includes museum entrance)
  • Bala, Royal Canadian Legion – Nov 10th (doors open 7pm, show starts 7:30pm)
  • South River, The Highlander Brew Co. – Nov 17th (doors open 7pm, show starts 7:30pm)
  • Port Sydney, Pine Lodge Inn – Nov 18th, Licensed Dinner Theatre (doors open 5:30pm, dinner starts 6pm, show at 7:30pm. General Seating. One 15 minute Intermission. Note – to purchase tickets is Nov. 10.

To learn more and to book tickets, visit the Dot the T Production website at https://dotthetpro.ca/

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Bryan Dearsley is Editor-in-chief of Luxury Globe Media and a fan of history and press releases. Feel free to send your news to him at editor@luxuryglobe.com

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1 Comment

  1. It was a thrill to see this production at the Midland Cultural Centre last week. Bill Colgate is brilliant in the role of Billy Bishop (and the many other characters he plays). The pianist, Cameron Gibson is a force (only sixteen?!) and Joan Bendon’s direction is artful and superb. It’s a solid production, the story is well told, and it is two hours of pure entertainment. I hope the seats are filled for every show. It deserves to be seen.

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