An actor in transition

The heart and soul of Neptune’s one-man A Christmas Carol show, Rhys Bevan-John brings fun and vulnerability to every performance

When Jeremy Webb decided to step back from acting in the beloved one-man version of A Christmas Carol he created in 2003, he knew there was only one person he could trust with his baby: Rhys Bevan-John.

“He’s younger, fitter, thinner, and funnier than me and it really pisses me off,” jokes Neptune Theatre’s artistic director. He then turns serious, adding that Bevan-John “has more soul than most performers in this town and that comes over in his performances.”

The classic holiday tale returns to Neptune’s Scotiabank Stage until Dec. 28, with Bevan-John once again bringing his playful, physical presence to more than 15 roles. The Dartmouth-raised actor toured with the show as a puppeteer bringing the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future to life in 2003 and 2005.

He took over from Webb four years ago, bringing his playful, physical presence to more than 15 roles in the haunting holiday tale.

A Christmas Carol is a challenge that draws on all the things I’ve done: it’s classical text, improv, clowning, miming,” muses the tall, slim actor with the infectious grin. “And I like the story of A Christmas Carol. It’s about a man who sacrificed everything else to win capitalism. And he finds out that that’s a really miserable existence and, in fact, all the things he sacrificed along the way are actually the point of life. Being a vessel for that story is very humbling. It has informed my life choices.”

Photo: Bruce Murray

Webb, who directs the work, says A Christmas Carol requires an actor that can hold the audience’s attention for 90 minutes. “It needs someone that can improvise and work with an audience that throws stuff at you because there’s a lot of participation,” he explains. “It needs someone that has an appreciation and love for storytelling and classic-flavoured theatre. It needs someone who looks good in mutton chops. And it needs someone the audience wants to spend that amount of time almost alone with.”

Simon Henderson joins in as the puppeteer but for most of the show Bevan-John is alone on stage bringing Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, and other memorable Victorian characters to life.

Halifax stage manager Kate Redding says what makes Bevan-John so good as a performer is who he is as a person.

“He makes you feel like the sole focus any time you are in a room with him,” she says. “That’s what the audience feels. He makes every audience feel they are special. It’s a special energy that translates into performance.”

Halifax actor Matthew Lumley agrees. “When he says ‘how are you?’ he really wants to know,” he says. He recalls how Bevan-John created a space that invited a level of intimacy and vulnerability essential to the collaborative creation of The Perfection of Man, which wowed audiences at the Atlantic Fringe Festival in 2012.

Lumley directed Bevan-John and Bill Wood in another Atlantic Fringe Festival hit Two, a study of two vaudeville partners in the process of breaking up, told through song, dance, and magic interspersed with storytelling. “He was stunningly brilliant. He had the whole room in the palm of his hand. He’s an incredible improviser.”

Bevan-John honed his improv talents for eight years with the Improv Knights after Webb invited him to join the comedy troupe. “It was evident then, back in the late ‘90s, this guy had skills,” says Webb, who taught the talented young actor in Neptune’s Pre-Professional Program.

Among those skills is his ability to clown. Not red-nose circus clown, but physical comedy, French mime-style clown, funny and poignant, much like Bevan-John himself. Redding raves about the physicality Bevan-John displayed as Clown 1 in The 39 Steps at Neptune in 2016.

“He’s a classic mime-in-the-box,” she explains. “He’s so tall and has such great limbs. He’s so specific and clean, it’s fascinating
to watch.”

Clown 1 earned Bevan-John a Merritt Award nomination as best supporting actor. He was also nominated for Merritt Awards for leading actor in Daniel MacIvor’s Here Lies Henry at Chester Playhouse and for supporting actor for Shakespeare by the Sea’s Much Ado About Nothing.

With Shakespeare by the Sea, Bevan-John did work he considers really seminal: an Edgar Allen Poe show, a steampunk Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Hamlet. His 2013 turn as the tortured titled character earned rave reviews, with the The Coast saying it was “quite possibly the performance of the summer.”

Though he plays leading men in theatre, Bevan-John says he’s often “the weird other guy in film and TV.”

He won an ACTRA Maritime Award for the role of Will in Roaming and played Andy Warhol’s spirit animal in the Daniel MacIvor-penned film Weirdos, directed by Bruce McDonald, which showed at the Toronto, Vancouver, and Berlin international film festivals, among others.
And he shone as a socially introverted video game designer in the locally shot movie Roaming.

“His ability to do character work is incredible,” enthuses Lumley, whose own character acting chops were on display this summer as Frankenstein’s monster in the Two Planks and a Passion production.

Another memorable Bevan-John creation is the Happy Hobo in Moonland, a one-man show for children about the imagination, and how play can help people grow. It was part of Eastern Front’s Stages Festival, it played at Nova Scotia libraries, and Neptune took it on tour to elementary schools across the province.

“Watching the audience watch Rhys is really special, kids in particular,” says Redding, who assisted in Happy Hobo’s creation and staged-managed the 2018 Neptune tour. “Monday to Friday, we’d be in a gym at 8:30 in the morning with kids losing their minds. He really made connections with the kids.”

Bevan-John has a simple philosophy. “When we work in theatre it’s not called a work, it’s called a play. Play is something I’m constantly trying to figure out in work and life. How can I make this more fun than this is?”

He appreciates the sense of playfulness that infuses Webb’s version of A Christmas Carol, noting though it has an element that touches the depths of darkness of the human psyche, it’s not where it lives.

Scrooge may be an outcast, but so are all actors until they find their niche. “Rhys is like a flame that burns brightly on stage. It feels like he’s in his element. He crackles and dances,” says Lumley.

Or maybe he has more than one niche. “I consider myself a person in transition,” says Bevan-John. “Where theatre opportunities present themselves to me, I leap at them. When that’s not the case, I focus on trying to help people regulate their nervous system.”

He’s working towards opening a private practice in the New Year as a somatic coach and a TRE (tension and trauma release) provider, holistic therapies he’s been studying for about five years.

And, in his spare time, he pursues his passion for another type
of play.

“I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons since I was a kid,” he says with a confessional tone, noting that while it may be cool now, “growing up, you didn’t bring your D&D books to school.”

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