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Madmen and English-trained

British director-done good sets up shop in Toronto

By Don Mosley

Toronto’s theatre scene is on the brink of developing a real maturity, according to Ned Vukovic of Lovers and Madmen productions. Vukovic should know. The English-trained, Toronto-based actor/director/producer has worked with the best, including a distinguished run with the Royal Shakespeare company in London.

“Twenty years ago Toronto had very little: the Royal Alex, the O’Keefe,” Vukovic said. “Today there’s so much. We have a city the size of Birmingham but we have 150 theatres compared to Birmingham which has half a dozen.”

Why would he leave a major theatre city to work in what was once a cultural backwater?

“It’s much more interesting here. There’s much more enthusiasm, more energy,”  he said. “Old centres like London and New York are a little jaded.”

Vukovic’s Maden and Lovers is coming off incredible success last year with Molly Wood, which won eight Dora (Toronto’s theatre awards named in honor of the late Dora Mavor Moore) nominations and two awards — Best New Play and Oustanding Production.

Not bad for a company that produced its first play with only blood, sweat, toil and tears and the proceeds from a garage sale.

“We made $600 which we used as a deposit on the rental of the Poor Alex Theatre. We said ‘Ok, we’ve got the theatre, what do we do now?’” That led to increasingly successful productions of Kvetch, Golden Pathway Annual, Hamlet, and Molly Wood.

Winning the Dora’s hsa made obtaining private funding a little easier and is helping them to produce more ambitious projects. 

Lovers and Madmen’s current season at the Bathurst St. Theatre kicked off with five one-man performances by England’s anarchic genius Ken Campbell. Campbell brought his comic revue to Halifax last year after entreaties by Codco’s Catherine Jones. It played to sold out houses every night.

“Ken is like a cross between Albert Einstein and Groucho Marx,” Vukovic says. “He’s brilliant. He was the inspiration for the new wave of English comedy.”

Lovers and Madmen will also stage Jim Bartley’s Stephen and Mr. Wilde in October and The Misfit, which Vukovic co-wrote with Neil Norman, in November.

The Misfit, based on the life-on-the edge actor Montgomery Clift, shows the actor’s decline from the height of his powers to a boozed-out, drugged-out debauchee. Marily Monroe once said of Clift that he “is the only person I know who’s in worse shape than I am.”

The show was first played in Toronto’s East End in a 50-seat theatre.

“Our first performance was to two little, old queens,” Vukovic said. “That was our entire audience. After the show one of them walked up to me and said ‘Are you the director? This is Broadway, this is Broadway quality. I’m going to tell all my friends.’ The next night we sold out and every night after. We had to extend the show.”

Tickets are available at the Bathurst St. Theatre box office or from Ticketmaster at 872-1111.

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