The Return of Bard on the Beach

The annual Shakespeare fest launches its 26th summer in Vanier Park.

June 4, 2015

As sure a sign as any that summer is about to make its return, Bard on the Beach launches its 26th annual edition tonight (June 4) in Vanier Park. The annual Shakespeare festival’s program this year boasts productions of The Comedy of Errors (June 4 – Sept. 26), King Lear (June 18 – Sept. 20), Love’s Labours Lost (June 19 – Sept. 20), and Toronto-born actor and playwright C.C. Humphreys’ Shakespeare’s Rebel (the latter directed by longtime Bard artistic director Christopher Gaze).

Here, a few words from Benedict Campbell, who takes on the demanding lead role in King Lear.

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Let’s be honest: the title character in King Lear is a tough part for any actor. But for Benedict Campbell, it’s a role that’s been waiting in the wings all his life. His father, Douglas Campbell, played it to great acclaim in at least three productions; in 1940, his grandfather, Lewis Casson, directed John Gielgud as the embittered, aging patriarch on the boards of London’s Old Vic. Then there’s Campbell’s own history with the play: portraying Edmund opposite his father in the 1985 Stratford production; and, in 2002, the Earl of Kent against Christopher Plummer’s lead.

No pressure, then.

“Because I did it with Dad, I have a very clear memory of the phonics of his performance,” Campbell admits. “But once you start working on the play as Lear, your own personality takes over. Some are bound to say I remind them of my father in the role, but I don’t think it is imitative.

I think Dad would have found my interpretation too off-the-wall, too modern. I’m a little more liberal with how I use the text. Still, I don’t want to disappoint those who remember him in the part.”

Though at 59 he says he’s still a little young for Lear, Campbell felt the time was right to take it on. And while some productions suggest dementia at the root of Lear’s behaviour, that’s not how Campbell interprets Shakespeare’s tyrant. “To me, casting Lear’s actions as a disease trivializes his moment of epiphany—that delayed coming of enlightenment—and with it, the play’s emotional punch.” —Fiona Morrow

Tickets and info: Bardonthebeach.org

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