There are no lengths John Bell won’t go to to share his love for the Bard. He has seen the insides of prisons and musty school halls across country NSW and the dusty, arid Outback, all in the name of Shakespeare.
But after a quarter of a century the man who helped transform Darlinghurst’s horse stables into Nimrod Theatre (now Griffin), and who founded Bell Shakespeare in 1990, has decided it’s time for the next generation to make its mark.
At the end of 2015 Bell will hand over to Peter Evans, his co-artistic director.
It is not overstating things to say Bell, a highly respected, hugely talented and remarkably humble individual, has revolutionised Australians’ appetite for the Bard.
Bell Shakespeare productions have been seen by 2.5 million Australians, including 80,000 students each year, one of the driving forces for Bell.
The actor-director has notched up an impressive number of portrayals of Shakespeare’s villains and heroes, from Hamlet (twice), Macbeth (twice), King Lear (three times) and three stabs at Richard III.
But with his 75th birthday approaching, and a legacy of which he can be justifiably proud, Bell feels it’s time.
“It seems to me to be the perfect time to step aside and hand over the reins to my co-artistic director ... he will bring a new energy and renewed focus to the company,” Bell says. “I am immensely proud of all this company has achieved over the last 25 years, against the most formidable odds. [But] I shall miss walking side by side with the Bard on a daily basis.”
Bell is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, actor Anna Volska and his daughters – actor Lucy and playwright Hilary and their families. He will continue to flex his acting and directing muscles – he’ll star in the upcoming Foxtel mini-series, Deadline Gallipoli alongside Bryan Brown, Sam Worthington and Rachel Griffiths, and will revive his Tosca for Opera Australia in 2015.
Bell Shakespeare’s Henry V plays the Sydney Opera House October 23–15 November.