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7 November

7 November

Sounds of Musical Theatre


BELL SHAKESPEARE ANNOUNCES 2021 SEASON: Bell Shakespeare has announced its 2021 season, which will open in March with the companys founder John Bell taking the stage at the Sydney Opera House for a one-man performance. One Man In His Time: John Bell and Shakespeare was to be part of the 2020 season, celebrating Bell Shakespeares 30th anniversary, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. John Bell will share his love of Shakespeare to Sydney audiences before presenting the show in Canberra in April.

He bounces around politics and love and language and various themes that have fixated him and still fixate him about Shakespeare and his work, says Artistic Director Peter Evans. And its very personal its not John talking about his life, or the productions, so much, its him talking about what the works mean to him. Audiences have been offered a taste of the show through the Sydney Opera Houses digital season, From our House to Yours, which is available to view now.

John recorded about 20 minutes of it straight to the camera in the Joan Sutherland, Evans says. I found it very moving, just the 20 minutes, so when he does the full thing live on stage, I think its going to be very special. Evans production of Hamlet, which opened in Sydney just before the pandemic shut down theatre, will return to Sydney in August, before touring to Melbourne and Canberra.

Starring Harriet Gordon-Anderson as the Danish prince, the production received positive reviews when it opened. This is one of the best Bell Shakespeare productions I have seen for a long time, probably the best since Kate Mulvany starred in Richard 3. You find yourself watching a famous play with fresh eyes, wrote Jo Litson in her review, describing Gordon-Andersons performance as dazzling.

It was huge, Evans says. People really responded to it. It was extremely positive response, so it was heartbreaking when we had to stop.

Between the pandemic and the US election, a lot has happened since the production was forced to close early so will audiences see it differently post 2020? We never made it with any explicit parallels, Evans says. But its very difficult with Shakespeare and politics to not read into it our own views about leadership etc. Evans expects most, if not all, of the 11 strong cast will return.

Were still working through that, he says. I think were close, I think there might be one or two who have got other commitments, but I think were pretty close to having them all back, which is great. Evans will also direct a family-friendly production of A Midsummer Nights Dream, which will open in July before touring to over 26 locations including Hobart, Alice Springs and Mackay, finishing at the Sydney Opera House with shows across November and December.

Id done it back in 2013 and been very keen to do it again, Evans says. It had been very successful and people really enjoyed it, but I really wanted to redo it and take it all around the country. While plans for Dream had been in the works for a while, it kind of fit the year as well, Evans says.

We wanted to have pieces that people could have real confidence in, and really want to go back into the theatre and know that there are really strong productions of really strong plays. With one of the strange effects of the pandemic being reports of people experience more vivid dreams, the piece also resonated with the current era. It was also partly the weird thing that time did to us this year, and the weird thing that a lot of us got to have a macro view of our lives and also quite a lot of anxiety, Evans says.

It absolutely fits in with how were all feeling, a bit kind of punch drunk and a bit strange. The company will also launch a new initiative, Play in a Day a single day of rehearsal followed by a readthrough of a lesser known play which next year will include Women Beware Women and The Revengers Tragedy by Shakespeares contemporary Thomas Middleton. Anyone who wants come into the rehearsal room, hear a reading actors just throwing themselves at it after just one day in the rehearsal room, script in hand, Evans says.

A good way to expand our audiences repertoire and listen to some plays and see whether there might be something we could do further down the track. Im really excited about it. Were just doing two and I hope well be able to continue doing them, he says.

It would be a really good thing for our company to be able to do lots more of these readings of lesser known plays. All in all, Evans is relieved to be one step closer to being back in the theatre. I think Ill believe it when Im sitting in there, he says.

While initially there were hopes to return in 2020, his sights are now firmly set on 2021. Were unashamedly going to keep celebrating our 30th anniversary into our 31st, Evans says. It was really disappointing not to get to do that properly, I think especially around John Bells show, we really want to celebrate him and what a milestone it is for the company.

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