The Classic Theatre Festival production of the mystery thriller An Inspector Calls, in which a body has been found and everyone is a suspect, has been generating a very strong
audience response, in addition to winning critical praise from some of the top theatre reviewers in the country.
Indeed, Jamie Portman, one of Canada’s most respected veteran reviewers, calls the show an “excellent, compelling production, another winner from Perth,” while Iris Winston of the Capital Critics Circle hails the show’s edge-of-your-seat qualities.
Among the actors singled out for kudos is Toronto’s Greg Campbell, whom Portman says “is outstanding as the self-satisfied, self-preening Arthur Birling,” a family patriarch who feels his ship has come in with the engagement of his daughter to the son of a business rival. The hoped for ensuing merger of companies and families will raise the Birlings’ status in the community. As the play opens, everyone is celebrating when a knock is heard and an Inspector enters, proceeding to begin his intensive round of suspenseful questioning.
For Campbell, the role of Birling follows on playing truly villainous characters in prior Classic Theatre seasons in Wait Until Dark and Dial M for Murder.
“I usually get cast as good-doers and sincere guys, so these roles have been a great opportunity for me to play,” says Campbell. “What fascinates me is that these people are very familiar. We know people with the traits that these men have. And they have very human qualities too, that we can’t help admire while we are repulsed by them. I like playing Birling because he has some pretty biting comebacks, gets to fire off a lot of angry rants, and because he is quite funny in his transparent attempts to hang on to his position and avoid scandal. He is somewhat of a buffoon, though he is completely unaware he is. And I do think he has redeeming qualities.”
Campbell has worked as a performer for 32 years, first inspired by seeing such musicals as Mary Poppins, Oliver!, Fiddler On the Roof, and The Sound of Music. He also saw his mother in a pantomime of Cinderella (in which she played Prince Charming because she was quite tall). His passion for theatre took off when he emceed, at age 9, the Montreal Allion School Saint Patrick’s Day Concert in 1969. “I was chosen as the best reader in the class and the theatre bug started there. I had a piping soprano at the time, and introduced each act with cue cards. I was stoked the night of the concert. On my way home after school, I tripped and dirtied the knees of my dress pants, and ran into the house in a complete panic, yelling to my Mum that I couldn’t go on looking like this. It was my first opening night panic attack!”
Campbell took theatre training at Concordia University in Montreal. “It was an academic program, but I had two teachers who made a great impression on me, “ he recalls. “Terry Donald had just started teaching acting, but he used Uta Hagen’s book, Respect For Acting, and he instilled in me a strong desire for authenticity and integrity that I still carry today. Joe Cazalet focused more on big plays, by the likes of Shakespeare and Brecht, and on creating spectacle. He directed me in Equus, where I played Alan Strang, the boy who blinds the horses, and it was the first time that I felt the power of acting, of being completely inside a role, and of giving everything I had to it. It was an amazing experience.”
His first professional show was a production of Peter Colley’s You’ll Get Used To It: The War Show, at Barrie’s Gryphon Theatre. It was directed by James B. Douglas, who’d had a part in the Robert Altman film, M*A*S*H. “I auditioned with a song I found in the reference library, When Der Fuhrer Says Ve Is De Master Race, and James loved it so much, he put it in the show,” Campbell recalls, fondly remembering performances when audiences members who had lived through the war often sang along to the songs performed on stage, such as White Cliffs of Dover.
Campbell is especially excited as a character actor when he can play more than one role in the same play. “I love being able to alter myself physically and vocally so that I am very different in two or more roles in the same play, but still, always, being entirely convincing as each character. I believe in theatre, how it can move and change many minds all at the same time. It can make people think and feel, and it can be totally entertaining.
He is also an avid theatre-goer. “I’m always hoping for that moment when an actor will stun me with his authenticity, or when a musical number will make me roar with laughter (like in the musical The Book Of Mormon) or just beam with joy. I go to see movies to escape. I go to the theatre to be amazed.”
Campbell is enjoying his third summer in Perth, which he loves for its “down-home feeling. The historic buildings are gorgeous: Toronto seems bent on tearing down anything that’s old. And Stewart Park is truly beautiful, on a par with the river walk in Stratford. When I come to Perth, I lower my gears, and am able to take a break from the pace of the city. And I can see the stars!”
To see Campbell and the excellent acting ensemble work through the mystery behind An Inspector Calls, tickets can be purchased at www.classictheatre.ca or 1-877-283-1283. The show runs until September 11, Wed. to Sun at 2 pm, with 8 pm shows Wed., Thurs. & Sat. at 54 Beckwith Street East in Perth.