The great Australian actor will appear in Eamon Flack’s upcoming Chekhov production.

The doyen of Shakespeare in Australia may have stepped down from the top spot of his theatre company, but John Bell is far from done with the stage. The 74-year-old actor and former Artistic Director of Bell Shakespeare has just been announced as part of the cast of Eamon Flack’s upcoming production of Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov for Belvoir St Theatre.

Opening in September, Bell will be playing the role of Matthew Shabelsky, the buffoonish, geriatric uncle of the play’s central protagonist, Nikolai Ivanov, due to be portrayed in Belvoir’s production by Ewen Leslie. This will be the first time Bell has appeared at theatre in Sydney’s Surry Hills since he played Prospero in Neil Armfield’s production of The Tempest in 1990.

However, due to Bell’s extremely crowded schedule, the auspicious casting very nearly fell through. The Shakespearian expert will be directing his own production of The Tempest, at the same time as Flack’s Chekhov rehearsals are due to be in full swing. So significant is the overlap between the two shows in fact, that Bell Shakespeare’s Tempest at the Sydney Opera House closes just one day before Ivanov open’s at Belvoir.

However the opportunity to appear in the only Chekhov play he is yet to perform in, coupled with Flack’s willingness to accommodate scheduling clashes, has ensured Bell will be able to return to the theatre he was instrumental in establishing in 1975, under its original name, the Nimrod Theatre. Describing Chekov as “my second-favourite playwright,” a 1963 production of The Cherry Orchard was Bell’s first professional engament, and since then he has portrayed all three of the principal male roles in Uncle Vanya (Vanya, Astrov and Professor Serebryakov), as well as appearing in productions of The Seasgull, The Three Sisters, and Michael Frayn’s 1984 adaptation of Wild Honey.

In typical Belvoir style, Flack’s production will be set in a contemporary, Australian setting, to bring the relevance of this 19th Century Russian text to a modern audience.

Belvoir Street Theatre present Ivanov September 19 – November 1. Tickets on sale Friday April 17.

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