An entitled political leader feels betrayed when those closest to him start questioning his suitability for office.
The by now familiar political story — hefty hubris leading to downfall — will play out this summer at Bower Ponds when Bard on Bower presents Shakespeare’s Richard II on the outdoor stage.
While the play was written in 1595 about an unstable English King who ruled from 1377 to 1399, the theme is universal.
It parallels the political drama Albertans witnessed this spring, when Premier Jason Kenney stepped down as UCP leader after greater-than-expected opposition from his party members.
It’s also threaded through Canadian federal politics, most recently when Conservative opposition leader Erin O’Toole was punted from power after a leadership vote earlier this year.
Real-life connections with the Richard II plot “were one of the reasons the play was pitched to me,” admitted Prime Stock Theatre artistic director Richard Beaune, with a chuckle ”The story is very current in Alberta and right across Canada… (discussion about) what makes a good leader is very current.”
The tragedy of Richard II, who ticked off his nobles and fell from grace, will be the second Bard on Bower production to take the stage at Bower Ponds starting from July 15.
It will run in repertoire with the fairies and mis-matched lovers that inhabit the fantasy/comedy world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which opens a week earlier, on July 9.
This summer’s Prime Stock Theatre company of 15 actors started rehearsals for both plays in a vacant Parkland Mall space, off the food court in May. Curious mall-goers were able to peek in at some of the action through the glass doors.
Beaune thought a fairly public rehearsal hall could be a good way of creating some buzz and prompting more Red Deerians to check out the finished productions on the Bower Ponds stage.
“We are looking for opportunities to grow the audience”— including drawing more residents from central Alberta and even Calgary and Edmonton, said Beaune, who’s been networking since arriving her from Ontario with his Red Deer-raised wife in 2021.
After acting and directing in last year’s Bard on Bower festival, he became the new artistic director of Prime Stock Theatre at the end of last year. Company founder Thomas Usher left for other projects after 27 years, feeling assured, through Beaune’s extensive experience, that he’d found the right successor.
Beaune has been plying his creative craft from the Stratford Festival to the Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre since the age of 17. He has worked from the National Arts Centre stage in Ottawa to many smaller venues — among them, summer stock Shakespearean festivals in Prescott, Ont. and Prince Edward Island.
Performing Shakespeare outdoors is very special, said Beaune, and worth putting up with occasional showers, mosquitoes, and even air quality issues (one Bard on Bower performance last summer was cancelled because of smoke from wildfires.)
Elizabethan stages in the 1500s were open to the elements, he noted. “When these plays were originally produced, they were done outdoors.”