British Columbia

Human struggle in First World War production still resonates a century later

In this adaption of Timothy Findley's The Wars (1977) by the University of British Columbia, students find resonance between a world at war and their current realities.

The actors in the production are the same age of the characters grappling with the reality of WWI

Actors David Volpov, Ishan Sandhu, Nicco Graham, and Caleb Pleasure in UBC Theatre's production of Timothy Findley's The Wars. (Javier R Sotres/UBC)

For the students in a new University of British Columbia production of Timothy Findley's The Wars, the swirling chaos of the First World War still has relevance in their modern life more than a century later.

The Wars, a novel published in 1977, is the story of Robert Ross, a young Canadian idealist who ends up at the gruesome frontline of battles in France during the First World War. 

Lois Anderson, who directed the production adapted by playwright Dennis Garnhum, says the production is focused on a group of young people in their 20s — the same age as the actors onstage.

"So right away, there's some connective tissue," Anderson said.

"What we're watching is young people who are battling with not just the fact that they're in the Great War and dealing with the chaos of that, but they're also battling with questions of identity, questions of sexual orientation ... questions of what is home ... what does the future look like?"

From left to right: actors Pamela Martinez, Hayden Davies, Karthik Kadam, and director Lois Anderson. (Lisa Christiansen/CBC)

Karthik Kadam, one of the actors in the production, says the beauty of the novel that it focuses on the small intimacies between people, instead of the large, historic facts of the First World War.

"There are human beings who are being played like chess pieces and it's their emotions. It's their journeys," he said. 

Through that emotional core, Kadam says he can see the resonance with modern day struggles — particularly the growing anxiety around climate change and political upheaval.  

"It is about a time much before ours but the sentiments are the same," Kadam said. 

"And while that's very, very sad that we're going through almost the same emotions and rides and journeys, it is that we are growing and that we are still able to move on and fight for humanity and that idea of what it means to be human."

Anderson says that was the point of Findley's novel.

"I believe that Timothy Findley is saying that life is a series of moments of connection, which is what the actors are talking about, moments of intimacy ... sometimes they're their fleeting moments where someone sees you and you are seen."

Actors and UBC students Laura Reynolds and David Volpov in the production of The Wars. (Javier R. Sotres/UBC)

Despite the devastating tragedies of war, she says there is still hope connecting within the chaos.

"I believe it's a life-affirming piece and it is a hopeful piece. An audience coming in anxious I think will walk away with a sense of life and what that is."

The play runs Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. PT at the Frederic Wood Theatre in University of British Columbia from November 7 to 23, 2019.

With files from Lisa Christiansen

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