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Artist Profile: Lesley Robertson takes on the role of King John in the upcoming production by Shakespeare BASH’d

Interview by Hallie Seline

Hallie Seline: King John has been scarcely performed up until last year when Stratford staged it. Why do you think King John is due for a ‘come-back’ and what about it stood out the most after working on it now in comparison to some of Shakespeare’s more often produced work in Canada?

Lesley Robertson: I think King John is definitely due for a come-back because I think we all need a break from the over-produced comedies for a bit, while still getting to enjoy Shakespeare’s spectacular poetry, characters, and timeless themes of humanity. I especially think it’s due for a come-back in the bare-bones, accessible way Shakespeare BASH’d is approaching the play.  The text is heavy with political maneuvering, battles over ‘right’, and religious language – it’s very dense and rooted in its history. But with the clear direction of James Wallis, I think we will make this difficult, murky-seeming play come alive for an audience through our emphasis on the story and language (without relying on expensive sets and costumes) and our youthful energy and passion to tell a story about oppression. I personally celebrate the play’s complexity and messy imperfections – I think it suits the story, which is full of political and moral errors and people switching back and forth between sides. I also think it’s a great time to tell a political story with Canada just having had a very interesting election and also a travelling Magna Carta exhibit!

HS: What have you discovered in exploring the character of King John? 

LR: I’ve thought a lot about manipulation and what is right and wrong. I’ve rarely played characters that, on the outside, might be perceived as ‘villainous’ or even not likeable. But from the inside, those people are simply acting in a manner they think best. They are doing what they think is right and they are simply going after what they want and need. So, I guess that’s to say, I’ve found it very interesting to empathize with someone that has been hated so widely and for centuries! (That’s not to say I think what John does is ‘good’ and ‘right’!) I think Shakespeare has created a deliciously complex play and I hope to imbue John with the complexity of any human being; we are all vulnerable. I hope to complicate the audience’s inherited perception of “Bad King John.”

HS: What are you most looking forward to in doing this piece in The Junction City Music Hall?

LR: The proximity between the audience and our playing space, I like being able to see audience members’ faces, and, of course, the beer.

HS: Describe this play in 10 words or less.

LR: Oh, I’m terrible at this… Crap, are you counting?… “Oppression.”

Lesley Robertson as King John. Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell

Lesley Robertson as King John.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

HS: Favourite Drink at The Junction City Music Hall:

LR: I remember noting several craft tall boys that I love, but I can only remember Conductor’s Ale at the moment. Ask me again at the end of the run!

HS: Favourite rehearsal moment:

LR: When everyone laughed at me during an early movement rehearsal in which I created a giant angry horse with my body that simply yells “NEIGH!!!”

HR: Favourite place in Toronto:

LR: Other than my home, the 13th floor of Robarts Library.

HS: Where do you find inspiration?

LR: Music, literature, history, documentaries…

HS: Best advice you’ve ever gotten:

LR: Hm… My streetcar driver today said “Life is too short to be grumpy” and that was pretty great.

HS: What do you think is on your King John’s pre-show playlist?

LR: Something that really pumps me up I guess… like gangster rap… Yeah, probably some gangster rap.

King John Graphic

Directed by James Wallis

Featuring: Sochi Fried, James Graham, Bailey Green, Catherine Rainville, Lesley Robertson, Caitlyn Robson, David Ross, Matt Shaw, Tim Welham, Kate Werneburg, Jeff Yung

When: November 16 – 21, 2015

Where: Junction City Music Hall, 2907 Dundas Street West, Toronto.

Tickets: $19 online: shakespearebashd.com $20 at the door.

Connect with us!

Shakespeare Bash’d: @ShakesBASHd

In the Greenroom: @intheGreenRoom_

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