A LOT has happened since last I spoke to actor-director Christopher Stollery while he was here in February 2019 to stage “Twelfth Night” for Lakespeare.
For one thing, the theatrical profession has been eviscerated by the COVID-19 outbreak, with productions cancelled all over the country and recent attempts to creep back on stage dealt a lethal blow in Melbourne, at least.
For another, Stollery is now father to a 15-month-old daughter, Moxy Rose, his first child, of whom he says, “she’s a cool kid – we hit the lottery. I’ve travelled the world, I’ve done my bit, so now during Covid I’ve just spent time at home with the girls, it’s been delightful”.
He’s been to-ing and fro-ing between Sydney and Canberra to take part, not as director this time, but as an actor, in Lexi Sekuless’ coming production of “Rockspeare Richard III”, a 90-minute version of Shakespeare’s lengthy yet popular play, the barnstormer “Richard III”.
He’ll play several small roles as well as the plum part of the dying King Edward IV, elder brother to Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
It’s no spoiler to say that Richard, who has his eyes on the throne, does his best to make his brother Edward’s last moments as miserable as possible with some very bad news.
Stollery enjoys working with Sekuless, whom he met some years ago in England. He joined her onstage to help launch the ANU’s Kambri precinct and also hired her for his production of “Twelfth Night” at Parramatta Park’s Old Government House from February to March as part of Sport for Jove’s summer season.
“Lexi played ‘Malvolia’ in a gender swap and she was terrific, very successful,” he says.
“Lexi and Taimus [co-producer Taimus Werner-Gibbings] and the guys have been very proactive in getting things happening,” Stollery explains. “They secured money from Rise Canberra, so I’ve been going backwards and forwards.”
Sekuless has recently condemned the Mallee Pavilion at EPIC, which been converted into a television studio where eight cameras will document and intervene in performances, as “a cowshed”, but Stollery is more philosophical, describing it as “a space that’s very interesting to work in”.
Besides, since “everything has gone south for the major theatre companies”, he’s simply pleased to be working and all the more because this is, he says, “Lexi‘s baby”.
Like me, Stollery takes an interest in theatrical history and is fascinated by the perennial popularity of “Richard III”, more popular in history than “Hamlet”.
“It’s a role I would love to have done,” he says.
“But instead I played Buckingham in the last production with John Bell, who staged the play a few times.”
Nowadays, he believes Richard the hunchbacked villain is seen in a different light.
“The idea of a disability being the embodiment of evil has changed with our attitude to minorities,” he says.
Kate Mulvany played Richard for Bell Shakespeare using her severe scoliosis to throw light on Richard’s own condition, re-discovered with the unearthing of his body in 2013. Sadly, Stollery was doing another show, so never saw her play the role.
“Shakespeare is a writer who can take almost anything in the way of interpretation,” he says.
“The concept of playwriting came after him – but he was the inventor of great theatre and great scenes.”
Because of the Bard’s casual approach to the fine art of playwriting, he believes, “Richard III” is a bit hard to stick with in the second half.
“It’s fun watching Richard getting to the crown in the first half, but maybe because we don’t have the same fantastic swordsmen that the Elizabethans did, the battle scenes are a bit tedious, so it’s all cut down to 90-minutes – now it goes like a rocket.”
Stollery knows he has to behave himself now that he’s not the director and assures me, “I do what I’m told, I’m just an actor”.
One thing that’s fascinating him is the original music composed by Jay Cameron which gives “a kind of a heavy metal aesthetic which will go well with a production playing live and also streaming from a cowshed”.
“Lexi has assembled a terrific local Canberra cast,” he says.
“It’s going to be a fantastic event in these dark times, a little bit of Shakespeare – a light still burning.”
“Rockspeare Richard III”, Mallee Pavilion, Exhibition Park In Canberra (EPIC), 7.30pm, Friday, August 7 and Saturday, August 8. Bookings for both live and streamed experiences at Eventbrite.