The ghost-obsessed Victorian age and the madcap 1960s advertising world will be two very different sides of Bard on Bower’s Shakespearean coin this summer.
The darker side will be the Prime Stock Theatre production of Hamlet, which opens Thursday, July 17, on the outdoor stage at Bower Ponds in Red Deer.
William Shakespeare’s tragedy about a man of inaction will be reset in a spooky Victorian shipyard, where Hamlet will no longer be the Prince of Denmark but the young heir of a wealthy shipping family.
Director Thomas Usher looks forward to playing up the late Victorian fixation with the supernatural. After all, this timeless play written in about 1600, unfolds after Hamlet sees the ghost of his father who demands to have his murder avenged.
“We tried to find a context in which the story would resonate, so we decided to set it at a time where there was this influence of the occult,” said Usher.
Red Deer College Theatre Studies alumni Albertus Koett will take on the coveted role of Hamlet, which has been tackled by the world’s greatest actors, including John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, and Kenneth Branagh.
Usher believes Koett shows great insight into Hamlet’s duality as a young man who is stymied by indecision. Torn between feelings of anger and revenge and questions about religion and morality, Hamlet doesn’t act against his murderous uncle until it’s almost too late.
Koett also has a great sense of Shakespeare’s language, said Usher, and is able find some levity even in the depths of Hamlet’s despondency. “This production will be surprisingly lighthearted in places, even though it’s driven by passion.”
Usher has trimmed the original four-hour script to a comparably breezy 2.5 hours, and has upped the female presence by casting two women as Hamlet’s school chums Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
On the flip side of the Bard on Bower’s two-play repertory lineup is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which runs on alternate nights at the same outdoor stage starting on Thursday, July 24.
This frothy 90-minute comedy about four mixed-up lovers will be set in the 1960s, a la the Mad Men TV series.
The play, actually written in about 1595, starts with domineering patriarch Egeus telling his daughter Hermia whom she should marry.
She refuses to wed Demetrius as instructed, and instead runs away with her true love, Lysander, to New York’s Central Park. There the two cross paths — not with forest fairies — but with the hippies Titania, Oberon, Puck etc.
“She goes from being under the thumb of her father to joining the counter-culture movement,” said Usher, who notes a local band will perform Beatles tunes as part of the production.
Such lyrics as “money can’t buy me love” fit perfectly with the play’s message, he added. “It’ll be a lively show. The cast is having fun.”
The productions include actors from Calgary and Okotoks, as well as some RDC alumni, and actors from Central Alberta Theatre and local high schools. Usher said he always brings an enjoyable mix of people together from the community as well as from outside it.
This year for the first time, Bard on Bower received a federal festivals grant so will be adding two 5 p.m. Bull Skit shows on July 26 and 27 at Bower Ponds. As well students from a Sylvan Lake day camp will be getting some theatre instruction.
Evening performances have been moved up to 7 p.m. with some 2 p.m. matinees also available. All shows are free, but donations are greatly appreciated. (Bring your own lawn chairs, blankets and bug spray.)
Hamlet is showing July 17-19, 23, 27 and 31 at 7 p.m., and July 26 and Aug. 2 at 2 p.m. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is showing July 24-26, 30 and Aug. 1 and 2 at 7 p.m., and July 27 and Aug. 3 at 2 p.m.
For more information, please visit www.primestocktheatre.com.