Hamlet in a hurry

Shakespeare in the Ruins presents a brisk, bare bones version the Bard’s classic tragedy

Daniel Crump

Since 1993, Shakespeare in the Ruins has been entertaining audiences with unique presentations of Shakespeare’s plays that are, according to its website, “an intriguing mix of bare-bones contemporary and traditional aesthetics [featuring] cross-gendered, multiple-role casting and a dynamic, text-oriented style of performance.” 

Director Sarah Constible is currently working on Stripped-Down Hamlet, an hour-long production of the Bard’s classic that will play at University of Winnipeg’s Asper Centre for Theatre and Film on Nov. 8 and 9. 

The rehearsal time is a short two weeks, but Constible is up to the task, having directed for SIR in 2009. 

“That’s just the way these things go,” she says. “Our cast is really quick on their feet, and with the show being so short, we could run it six times a day if we wanted to. Actually, that’s what we’re hoping to do today!”

Because the production is so streamlined, not every Hamlet character makes it into Stripped-Down Hamlet, most noticeably fan favourites Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (perhaps Tom Stoppard killed them), but there are “nods to absent characters.”

SIR artistic co-chair Kevin Klassen makes up a quarter of the much-abbreviated cast. He has been involved with SIR since 2002 and played many of Shakespeare’s most well-known roles, “from Romeo to Juliet.” A self-described “Shakespeare nerd,” Klassen has been hooked since reading Julius Caesar in Grade 8. 

When we ask Constible if she too has always loved Shakespeare’s works, Shakespeare’s works, the easy chemistry between cast and director becomes evident. 

“She still hates him,” Klassen says jokingly. “Actually, I don’t even know how to read.” 

 “It was always in my house. I guess I did go through this phase where I just thought he was a dead white man who got too much attention, but I grew to appreciate him over time,” Constible notes with mock sheepishness. 

Constible mentions having read Lamb’s Tales as a child, a book filled with adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays for very young people and similar to SIR’s Stripped-Down series which is aimed at high school audiences.

“The story becomes very clear this way,” Constible says. “For some people who are just starting out (with classic theatre), Hamlet can be very dense. Part of SIR’s mission is to bring clarity and accessibility to Shakespeare.” 

When we ask about performing for high school audiences, Klassen chuckles softly.

“They’re usually pretty great. It takes a lot of energy. Their reactions are so genuine, especially at the comedic points, which is very satisfying,” he says. 

Klassen adds that, contrary to popular belief, teenage audiences are only getting better. 

“They know how to attend theatre,” he says.

Though Shakespeare is probably one of the most reinterpreted artists in pop culture, Constible notes that in each production the actors change, making each interpretation, no matter how loyal, truly unique. “That’s the amazing thing about Shakespeare,” she says. “You can always find something new or unexpected within it.”

Published in Volume 68, Number 9 of The Uniter (October 30, 2013)

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