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Sunday, May 19, 2024

From Orwell to Disney: Bernard Cuffling is busier than ever

Veteran actor finds himself on two stages in Coming Up for Air & Beauty and the Beast

Veteran Vancouver actor Bernard Cuffling is busier than ever.

Despite having retired from the stage seven years ago, he currently finds himself involved in two projects: a one-man stage adaptation of George Orwell’s Coming Up for Air, and then a return to the Arts Club Theatre Company in Beauty and the Beast.

“When I say I retired, it’s because of an age thing. One’s supposed to retire at 65, but actors never do retire,” he says with a laugh, by phone during a break in rehearsals.

Despite the busy time and exhausting schedule, Cuffling is relishing the idea of playing in two very different shows.

“I love the Orwell piece, and I love the singing in Beauty and the Beast,” he says. “If you love something like that, it’s a lot easier to do. Both are very dear to my heart, and hopefully, that will make it a little easier.”

Coming Up For Air

Cuffling first appears in Coming Up For Air at the Kay Meek Centre from November 16-25.

Based on Orwell’s 1938 pre-Word War II novel and adapted for the stage by Vancouver playwright, Leslie Mildiner, Cuffling portrays George Bowling, an insurance salesman who returns to his childhood village, in the hopes of recapturing the innocence of his youth. George soon finds things have changed beyond recognition though, not only from the effects of modern life, but intensified by the threat of the looming war.

Impressed by Orwell’s futurist abilities in foreseeing the eventual arrival of World War II in Europe, Cuffling is equally drawn to the relevance Coming Up For Air has today.

“Without wanting to give too much away, there is a moment in the play where someone puts their hands on the lever by mistake, and drops a bomb,” he says. “Wasn’t it earlier this year where Trump said he was going to blast North Korea out of existence? You realize that Orwell is so pertinent today, and that history doesn’t change its belt.”

Cuffling’s second time with Coming Up For Air, having previously performed the show in a 2006 Victoria production, the idea of tackling this one-person show again still causes him to pause. “It terrifies me, because it’s forty solid pages,” he says with a laugh.

But while Cuffling may find performing in Coming Up For Air a scary proposition, he is thankful for how well it has been constructed, and in its ability to paint vivid pictures for audiences.

“As an actor, my favorite playwrights are those that give us great images,” he says. “It’s like when I was a kid growing up in London. We didn’t have a television. We had a radio, and the great thing about a radio is your imagination. What I love about this play is, even with the beautiful projections and sound effects, it makes you work on the imagination.”

Beauty and The Beast

Cuffling’s second project is with the Arts Club Theatre Company’s remount of Beauty and The Beast

And even though Beauty and The Beast does not open at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage in Vancouver until December 7, rehearsals for the Disney musical do overlap with his performance in Coming Up for Air.

“Can you believe that we open Coming Up for Air on Thursday, and then Friday morning I start rehearsing Beauty and the Beast?” says Cuffling. “I still have to figure out a way that I can commute from rehearsals at the BMO Theatre Centre in the Olympic Village to West Vancouver in time to do the shows here.”

Not surprisingly, Beauty and The Beast is another show the prolific actor has done before. First seen in an Arts Club production in 2005, Cuffling will once again play the role of Belle’s father, Maurice.  “I vaguely remember some of the lines,” he says with another laugh.

A long history with the Arts Club Theatre Company, Cuffling’s return to the Stanley stage this holiday season will mark some forty years with the company.

“I don’t know exactly how many productions I’ve done there, but I would think about 75 to 100,” he says.

While he may not remember the exact number of shows, he does remember his first.

“It was a trivial comedy called My Fat Friend,” he says. “I remember clearly as I was still learning my lines during the intermission on the night it opened.”

After being recommended for the part by Canadian actress Susan Wright who had worked with Cuffling, the Arts Club’s artistic director Bill Millerd traveled to London to meet with him.

“I didn’t know Bill at the time, and he flew over, and I met him on the Monday night in a pub in London. We went to see a show, and on the Friday, I flew to Vancouver,” he says.

Opening in My Fat Friend just a week later, the show went on to be a hit, eventually taking Cuffling across Western Canada.

“It was a great calling card to come to Canada,” he says.

It is a card which continues to serve him well, as an actor in demand.

Coming Up for Air plays the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver from November 16 through November 25. Visit for tickets and information.

Beauty and the Beast returns to the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage in Vancouver from December 7 to January 13. Visit for tickets and information.

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