Skip to content

Unsung heroines of the Second World War

The Invisible – Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare is a metaphor for our times
0102 Catlayst Theatre sup
Melissa MacPherson and a cast representing Second World War spies are at the epicentre of Catalyst Theatre's new musical opening at Citadel's Maclab Theatre on Feb. 4. CITRUS PHOTOGRAPHY/Photo

PREVIEW

The Invisible – Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Catalyst Theatre, Edmonton

Feb. 7 to 23

At Citadel’s Maclab Theatre

9828 – 101 A Ave.

Tickets: $19 to $48 plus fees and GST. Call 780-425-1820 or visit citadeltheatre.com

ST. ALBERT – An aristocratic Polish Jew active in the resistance. An Indigenous nurse assigned to a military hospital. A widow driven to revenge after the Nazis kill her husband.

They were trained British spies ordered to carry out assassinations, sabotage trains and transport weapons as well as other assorted clandestine operations.

Not your everyday femme fatales who used womanly curves to pry secrets, these Second World War covert operators stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts instigating unrest throughout a great deal of Axis-held territory.

More than 50 women alone were sent to France on suicide missions where most were eventually captured, tortured and died in concentration camps.

They are the stuff of legends, yet were very much real women. They are The Invisible – Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare, premiering in Edmonton at the Maclab Theatre on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

Artistic director Jonathan Christenson first discovered this chain of events after stumbling across a book about William Stephenson, a Canadian decorated pilot, ultra successful businessman and Winston Churchill’s close friend.

Stephenson’s codename was Intrepid and he established a spy network that ultimately stalled the Nazi war machine.

“This was the first time women were recruited as agents to sabotage an enemy. They were incredible women who stepped out of their familiar territory,” said Christenson, who wrote The Invisible's text, composed the music and lyrics, and directed the musical.

He was partially attracted to their story because of the unsettling parallels in our global political landscape.

“How did we get to this place with all the xenophobia and extreme populist movements? It’s time to take a pause and look at the people who gave up their lives for a cause they believed in.”

The former St. Albert resident began to work on the script in 2018 after wrestling with President Trump’s divisive attitude. It started him asking questions about our values and our journey of progress as a society.

“I didn’t know how to fight it.”

But in creating The Invisible, Christenson hoped to stir up new ideas.

“Would you be prepared to lay your life down on the line for your beliefs? What these women were prepared to do was incredible. What would we be prepared to do?”

He added, “This isn’t a new struggle. These women were actively part of (a) centuries-old struggle for equality. Without that work, we wouldn’t be able to take a step forward today.”

Kristi Hansen, Tara Jackson, Melissa MacPherson, Marie Mahabal, Melanie Piatocha, Amanda Trapp and Justine Westby are the featured cast of seven.

A dozen songs, including a few newly composed ones, blend French cabaret, German cabaret and big band swing with more contemporary styles. A three-women live band accompanies the cast.

Production designer Bretta Gerecke has not only finessed the costumes. Her set design is also powered with sophisticated projections.

“Bretta and I wanted to bring in a graphic novel esthetic. The projections are used not as a scenic element, but we wanted it to be part of the story. We have translations projected, chapter headings and thought bubbles.”

Christenson admits to never being a world war fan. But his deep dive into history has provided a fresh perspective.

“Fundamentally, I hope it acts to inspire people. The women embodied a kind of conviction and selflessness that was truly inspirational. They are real leaders. I hope people leave thinking, ‘I hope I have that in me. And the world they fought for us is one we must continue to fight for today.'”