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VIDEO: Award-winning play brings 1940s France to Vernon stage

Catalyst Theatre’s The Invisibles tells the story of seven women who fought a war of sabotage to free France from German occupation during the Second World War

With nothing but a wireless transceiver disguised as a suitcase and fake papers, Violette Szabo parachuted into German-occupied France in April 1944. Fighting to end the war that took the life of her French husband, the British national returned to France ahead of D-Day to sabotage the German lines of communication before possibly being captured, or even executed.

As a member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), an underground “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” ordered by Winston Churchill to ‘set Europe ablaze,’ Szabo and her SOE colleagues were among the only Allied women in active combat on the Western Front during the Second World War.

Inspired by the real-life stories of these brave women, Catalyst Theatre’s The Invisible–Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare, will transport the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre (VDPAC) audience to 1940s France on May 11.

“This genre-busting mash-up of historical research, spy fiction, graphic novels and musical theatre is a contemporary portrait of the brave women who secretly fought during the Second World War,” said Erin Kennedy, VDPAC’s artistic director. “This ‘film-noir musical’ tour-de-force, inspired by the true tale of these elite female agents recruited to help bring down the Nazis, re-imagines the story of these women through a contemporary lens. The audience leaves with the greater question of what truly matters in life.”

In The Invisible, seven extraordinary women operatives risk their lives to fight a dangerous war of espionage, sabotage and propaganda to bring down the greatest threat of their time — only to find they may be betrayed at any second by the world they fight to save. As they delve deeper into enemy territory, they are forced to ask themselves what they’re willing to sacrifice? And how far are they willing to go?

Written and directed by Jonathan Christenson, and backed by a live music score by Christina Cuglietta, Stephanie Urquhart and Tatiana Zagorac, this three-time Betty Mitchell Award-winning play builds on Catalyst Theatre’s history of “visually and sonically immersive storytelling… seamlessly blending image, sound, text and movement” to draw audience members into the story and the very experiences of these courageous women.

The cast also features the return of Vernon-born actress Justine Westby, who portrays Szarlotta Jazinski in the production.

“There’s a lot in this story that’s relevant today. It’s about these women banding together to fight against an oppressive force. They do it in such a way that they never tear one another down. They’re always supportive and standing together,” said Westby.

Now based in Orlando, Fla., Westby joined the cast of The Invisible in 2019 while living in Calgary. The May 11 performance will be Westby’s first in Vernon since she last performed with the Fulton Secondary drama department and in local Powerhouse Theatre productions.

“It’s kind of a full-circle moment for me,” said Westby. “I love where I grew up. It was always a very supportive community. It’s really exciting to come home and do this performance, especially because it’s one that I’m so passionate about.”

Westby was drawn to the performance from the start for their decision to feature an all-female cast.

“You’re watching seven women come together to serve a purpose so passionately,” says Westby. “It’s a very moving production to experience.”

Edmonton’s famed Catalyst Theatre brings “The Invisible–Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare” to the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre on May 11, following a nine-day run at The Cultch’s York Theatre in Vancouver. It offers a soaring Grand Finale to the VDPAC’s 2022 Spring SPOTLIGHT Season. Doors Open at 6:30 p.m.. Curtain at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets available at or call 250-549-SHOW (7469).

Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

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