Stars Frontman Brings One-Person Play to Persephone

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Torquil Campbell has returned to theatre after a 15-year absence. (Photo Supplied)

Fans of the popular Montreal indie band Stars are sure to be familiar with vocalist Torquil Campbell.

What some people may not know, however, is that Campbell is also an actor and playwright who is currently staging a one-man show called True Crime.

Campbell will be in Saskatoon this week when Persephone Theatre presents the Crow’s Theatre/Castle Massive Production show. It’s being billed by Persephone as a true story that’s “filled with lies” and that offers “a mind-twisting encounter with an artist obsessed with how we all fake it, one way or another.”

“It’s a tough show to talk about, because the more I say the more I give away. So much of it depends on me not giving away too much,” Campbell said in a recent interview.

“But, essentially, it’s about my obsession with this guy — who was an imposter and eventually proven to be a murderer — and what came of my obsession with him.”

True Crime was created by Campbell and Chris Abraham in collaboration with Julian Brown. It explores the life of Clark Rockefeller, a con man serving a near-life sentence in a California prison.

Campbell has always been interested in crime, as well as what crime does to the people around it and what it says about society and the human soul.

“I think that this guy’s story is a sort of perfect expression of what I find so fascinating about it — which is that it’s possible to be very charming and very successful and very acceptable in all kinds of ways, and still have this gene inside you that makes you OK with piercing the veil of common decency,” Campbell said. 

“And then there are the rest of us, who try our best to be decent and don’t pierce that veil and live our lives if not perfectly, then at least in a state of some kind of moral certainty about how we treat other people and what the story of our lives is,” he added.

True Crime marks Campbell’s return to the theatre after about 15 years. He was an actor before he joined a band.

“I think one of the big reasons I left it behind was because I felt, so often, that I was in the business of pleasing the audience or wanting them to like me, and there’s a lot of insecurity around that and a lot of feelings of anxiety and, eventually, feelings of resentment against the audience, I think,” he said.

“And so the play is, in some ways, an act of revenge, I guess, in a sense that I’m hoping the audience leaves there understanding that art isn’t just something nice that should make you feel good about life. Art can also be something that can be used to remind you that life is precarious and that there are things that are not all right, and that art is not necessarily a moral force, you know?

“You have to build your own morality. Art provides with you with truths about the world and, from those truths, you might be able to come up with your own morality. But I’m concerned by the intertwinement, I guess, of art and lesson-teaching. Not that there isn’t a role for art in that, but I really wanted this to be something entertaining and that was my primary concern. And I wanted it to be something that makes the audience feel somewhat in danger, because God knows when somebody gets up on stage to tell a story they’re in danger. So I want the audience to share the peril with me a little bit.”

Campbell is earning positive reviews for True Crime. In January, for example, the Montreal Gazette newspaper published a review that referred to Campbell

as “a real charmer.” The review also noted he “proves himself a resourceful mimic, disarms the audience with self-deprecating introspection and weaves a tale that keeps you hanging on his every word.”

Performing in True Crime is very different for Campbell than giving a concert as a member of Stars. While composer and performer Julian Brown plays guitar during the play, Brown is “not going to step out there and save me if I forget the lines or anything,” Campbell noted. 

“There are times when I’m up there and I think, ‘My God, if I stop talking right now this show just comes to a close.’ No one’s going to step in and save me, you know what I mean? So it’s a strange feeling sometimes, so I really need the audience,” he said. 

“I’m super engaged with them, and they become — to a very large degree – my scene partner and my co-conspirator and, I think, perhaps more than they would like to be, people who are my colluders, as Donald Trump would like to say. There’s lots of collusion in my play. There may be no collusion between Trump and Russia, but there’s lots of collusion between me and the audience.”

True Crime runs from April 2 – 14 at the BackStage Stage at Remai Arts Centre. Tickets are $34 and are available by calling 306-384-7727 or by going online to persephonetheatre.org.