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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Theatre review: SmallWaR is quietly poignant

Lest we forget

Valentijn Dhaenens’s SmallWaR has come full circle. Originally produced at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014 to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, it is now in Vancouver to help mark the 100th anniversary of the war’s end.

Part of The Ceasefire Series currently on The Cultch’s three stages in East Vancouver, SmallWaR is a poignantly quiet reaction to the horrors of war.

Not dealing specifically in WWI though, Dhaenens pulls real-life letters and testimonies from a variety of conflicts, from as far ago as those of Attila the Hun in the fifth century, through to Afghanistan in 2007, to tell this quiet story of life and death on the battlefield.

Impressively technical, Dhaenens comprises the entire cast of players. On stage as a WWI nurse, he also plays a soldier on a video screen laid across a hospital bed, and most powerfully, apparitions of this same soldier across a larger video screen. At its most complex, Dhaenens plays the nurse and five variations of the soldier on video at one time.

A consummate performer, Dhaenens not only interacts with the various versions of himself, he interjects musical elements which are both incongruous and surprisingly touching.

At the centre of Dhaenens’s performance and the impressive technical aspects of the show, is the soldier who speaks on a telephone to loved ones back home; a girlfriend, a mother, a father. Each conversation is a melancholy-soaked memory based on the real first-hand accounts Dhaenens has gathered from disparate wars.

While there is a poignancy to Dhaenens’s SmallWaR that is satisfying, because of its largely static and quiet approach, it is also somewhat dulling. Maybe that is part of the point. In an exploration of the time between life and death under horrific circumstances, Dhaenens has chosen those moments of quiet reflection, reverence, and introspection.

Perhaps it is only fitting that SmallWaR ultimately carries a similar heavy weight in our hearts and minds as we pause to remember on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.

SmallWaR created and performed by Valentijn Dhaenens. A SKaGen, Richard Jordan Productions & Theatre Royal Plymouth production, presented by The Cultch. On stage at the York Theatre (639 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until November 16. Visit for tickets and information.

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