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The Shakespeare Company brings Hamlet madness to Calgary

By Kristy Koehler, November 1 2018 —

“The play’s the thing,” says William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in a famous soliloquy.

This year, the play will be four very different things, as Haysam Kadri, artistic director of The Shakespeare Company, brings the Danish prince to life on stage in four creative presentations of one of Shakespeare’s most famous works. The season is being co-produced by Hit & Myth productions.

The season, dubbed Madness in Great Ones, offers a lot to be excited about. Though theatres have staged productions of Hamlet for hundreds of years, it’s unprecedented to devote an entire season to the work.

“To have a full season is a bold statement and one that we’re really excited about,” says Kadri. “We’re telling four different versions of the same play and I think that’s really exciting.”

Kadri says that many actors are drawn to the character of Hamlet.

“There’s something about the Danish prince that actors want to wrestle and tackle and try to navigate and figure out,” he says.

The Shakespeare Company kicked off the Hamlet-centred season with Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. The fresh new take, the first collaboration between The Shakespeare Company and Alberta Theatre Projects, showed at the Martha Cohen Theatre from Oct. 9–21.

Kadri cast two women in traditionally male-lead roles.

“I was looking for the right two people, the right dynamic,” he says. “It was a no-brainer for me.”

Kadri said that ticket sales were outstanding and that the Martha Cohen was the perfect venue for the show.

“The Martha Cohen is very compatible for Shakespeare,” Kadri says, adding that the stage’s thrust configuration — a platform extending into the audience — brought an intimate and interactive environment to the space.

The second play in the series, Hammered Hamlet, will run from Jan. 23–26, 2019. The actors will imbibe on stage, tipsily taking on the Bard as the play progresses.

“You’ll get to see the before and the after results,” says Kadri. “Negotiating Shakespeare is difficult at best playing sober, so this adds a completely different element. Who doesn’t want to see a tipsy actor trying to negotiate heightened Elizabethan text, with a sword maybe?

“We’ve cast very specific skill sets for this play, actors who have chops but also have the discipline of improv in their back pocket. I imagine we’re going to go off script,” he added.

Hammered Hamlet, says Kadri, was the perfect opportunity for a collaboration with High Performance Rodeo and One Yellow Rabbit Productions.

“There’s already a buzz,” he says. “Tickets haven’t even gone on sale and the Rodeo is telling me they’re already fielding a lot of calls.”

The third show, part of a long-standing partnership between The Shakespeare Company and Vertigo Theatre, is the production that really got the ball rolling on Madness in Great Ones.

Famed for its mystery productions, last year’s Macbeth collaboration between Vertigo’s artistic director Craig Hall and The Shakespeare Company’s Kadri was hugely popular. Kadri said that after the success of that partnership, the two tried to find another show that landed in the mystery genre. Hamlet: A Ghost Story, running Mar. 20 to Apr. 13, is the show that fit the bill.

Hamlet truly is ghost story, so we thought, “Let’s amp up that element of it, the paranormal supernatural element, like we did in Macbeth,” Kadri says. “It’s been amazing to see how [Vertigo’s] subscribers have really gravitated toward this classical genre. I think we’ve done a good job of updating these plays and making them fit into the mystery genre.”

The fourth and final play in the season is Hamlet Frequency. Running at the Vertigo Theatre from May 16–25, 2019, Frequency will be a movement-based production. Director Denise Clarke will be at the helm and Kadri says he trusts her vision.

“It may sound like a risk, but it was an easy choice to pull the trigger on that show,” he says. “I select certain directors because I trust them implicitly.”

The show is based on the ghost of Hamlet, as well as the ghosts of all the characters who appeared in the original story.

Tickets to some of the shows are available now. Information on the venues and where to buy tickets can be found at The Shakespeare Company’s website.

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