Local actor and playwright Caleb Williamson will take the lead role in a biopic play he wrote about the English Romantic poet John Keats.

Local talent brings famous poet to life

Play took eight years to research, write and rehearse

After nearly a decade of work, Caleb Williamson will finally premiere his biopic play about poet John Keats this weekend.

“He always sat with me in the back of my head,” said Williamson, who added that he was captivated by the poet’s life more than his work.

Williamson first started thinking about the famous English Romantic poet in high school. However, it wasn’t until after the Kwalikum Secondary School grad attended the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School eight years ago that he decided to finally bring Keats back to life.

Over the next several years, Williamson researched the young poet while working a job in construction. He read dozens of books and utilized holiday trips to Europe to investigate Keats’ stomping grounds.

Then, about five years ago, Williamson approached Ann Gates of ECHO Players and Thin Ice Theatre to direct the play. Gates readily agreed and soon began working with the playwright to edit down his initial work into a more active and succinct two-hour play in two acts.

“We started with a novel’s worth of work,” said Gates. “He (Williamson) did an amazing, huge amount of research.”

In the end, Williamson said around 15-20 per cent of the play is derived from Keats’ own words as taken from poetry and letters. The remainder was written with the goal that an audience would not be able to tell where the famous poet stops and Williamson begins.

All put together, the play, Keats, tells the story of the young poet’s dramatic life until his death at age 25. Williamson also hopes he captures some of Keats spirit — which he described as full of the determination to keep pursuing a passion instead of being beaten down by life — in the play.

“It’s an opportunity for Keats to look back on important moments in his life and it affirms his life,” said Gates of the show. “I hope people don’t go away feeling sad for him (the poet).”

The production will be predominately a one-man play, with Williamson taking on the role of Keats.

Gates also said that Nayana Mongeau will appear onstage as the young poet’s love, Fanny Brawne.

Behind the scenes, Gordon May will act as sound designer and consulting director and Shannon Dillon will have the role of stage manager.

While it’s a small cast and crew, Gates doesn’t think this will affect the quality of the play.

“The difference isn’t the number of people,” she said. “It’s the amount of work you put in.”

Keats will premiere at the McMillian Arts Centre on April 4, and the show will also run April 5, 9-11 and 18-19. All shows are at 7 p.m. at the MAC. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors and students, and are available at Mulberry Bush Bookstore in Qualicum Beach and Cranky Dog in Parksville.

After Keats has its run at the MAC, Thin Ice Theatre will also take the show to the Theatre B.C. North Island Zone Drama Festival in Port Alberni this May. Williamson also said that he hopes the play will see the stage again over the summer and is planning to enter the play into fringe festivals next year.

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