By Stephanie Swensrude
A local theatre company is re-envisioning Hamlet in a virtual setting, taking it on as a one-time, lone-actor adaptation exploring different gender roles, running every Friday until June 25.
Each rendition was devised by six director-actor partnerships and is inspired by the monologues, or soliloquies, spoken by Hamlet in the eponymous play.
Theatre artists have been adapting Shakespeare’s plays to resonate with modern audiences for over 400 years. One of the modifications moving the play into 2021 was casting choices.
Director Sydney Campbell is queer, non-binary, and co-created the acclaimed sketch comedy duo: Gender? I Hardly Know Them. They also wanted to create a “queer piece” for the project.
“Shakespeare is historically just so male, so white, so cis, so straight, and I am very few of those things,” Campbell said.
Campbell’s actors are a queer, non-binary person, and a woman. Most of the other actors are also “non-dudes.”
Gender-bent Shakespeare plays are well at home in Edmonton and around the world. In 2018, the Freewill Shakespeare Festival’s Comedy of Errors featured side-splitting Kristi Hansen and Belinda Cornish as the typically male main characters. They also put on Hamlet that year and had Bobbi Goddard play Hamlet’s best friend, Horatio.
For Campbell, changing the gender of these characters brings new life into centuries-old plays.
“These characters don’t need to be relegated to a specific sex,” said Campbell.
The play is also being explored through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This was a very interesting time to reimagine Hamlet’s story,” Campbell said.
One of the major themes of Hamlet is social isolation. Hamlet is home from university without any of his friends. His uncle just killed his dad, and his mom married his uncle weeks after the funeral. He doesn’t have anyone to talk to, nor a reason to live.
Considering the decline in Canadians’ mental health, especially among youth, audiences are bound to find the character’s plight familiar.
Despite this, Campbell wanted to take a “joy-forward” approach to the project.
“I come from a comedy background, so I want [the audience] to walk away from it going ‘wow, that was very funny and stupid and silly,’” said Campbell.
According to their director notes, Campbell wants you to “enjoy this version of Hamlet In Isolation with a piece of cake, or lasagna, a hearty glass of wine, and preferably in the bath.” To do so, grab tickets here.
This is a taste of Hamlet in Isolation.
Hamlet, played by Kiana Woo on May 28, looks into her webcam. She’s in her bedroom, a place where everyone can assume she has spent a lot of time during the pandemic.
There’s a ring-light and a guitar in the background, and Hamlet speaks without a trace of iambs or any heightened speech. If the audience didn’t know any better, they might have thought they were watching a YouTuber or Twitch streamer sit down at their webcam to rant about their day.
“Hey, uh, it’s Hamlet here. If anyone is out there…what’s your name and where are you?” says Hamlet.
“Honestly, it really fuckin’ sucks here. And I wish I didn’t have to come back to this shithole at all.”
The thou’s and the where art’s will come later, but for now, Hamlet reads messages from the live chat.
“Kas is tuning in from Vancouver…must be nice, anywhere but here,” Hamlet says before looking right into the camera.
“I just really, um, need someone to talk to,” she says. “And I think you might be it.”