Local Shakespeare fans are invited to check out two of the Bard’s best-known works complete with a fresh, modern look.
Featuring Twelfth Night and King Lear, Red Deer’s Prime Stock Theatre presents Bard on Bower at Bower Ponds July 16th through Aug. 2nd.
Performances are suitable for all ages. Twelfth Night opens July 16th with curtain at 7 p.m. and runs until Aug. 1st. King Lear opens July 23rd at 7 p.m. as well, and closes Aug. 2 at 2 p.m.
Rather than go the conventional route in presenting these plays, the folks at Prime Stock Theatre are setting them in modern contexts which serve to both make them more accessible to the public while emphasizing the universal themes that audiences of virtually any time period could relate to.
“If you see yourself in a given character, then it can open up a whole world of understanding,” explains Artistic Director Thomas Usher.
“What we love about the process is that the more time we spend on these plays, the more you say, ‘These things are happening today’,” laughs Usher, referring to the many connections in the stories that modern society can relate to. “This is how we behave still – Shakespeare had great insight into humanity. We are petty and conniving as they were; we are as passionate as they were. It’s all written down in a format that’s a little more poetic, but it’s really quite contemporary in ways. So it’s really fun.”
Of course, the beauty of the language infuses the productions with a certain richness as well.
Usher describes their rendition of Twelfth Night as a Shakespearean ‘surfin’ safari’. Set on the beaches of idyllic Illyria, Viola loves the handsome Orsino who loves the beautiful Olivia who in turn is in love with the young Viola disguised as a boy. “Think Annette Funicello and the gang at a beach party,” he chuckles, referring to the classic beach films from the 1950s.
“To also be able to supplement or exchange some of the songs that were originally written with others from popular culture but that still speak to the same sentiment, it brings (the play) to life in a new and fresh way,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot of fun with this one.”
Throw in a couple of foolish knights, a missing brother and some summer frolic and you have the recipe for ‘midsummer madness’. Backed with lots of terrific music from a Beach Boys tribute band, Twelfth Night indeed remains one of Shakespeare’s most “popular renaissance rom-coms.”
King Lear will be presented in an absolutely unique, compelling and comparatively current style as well.
After years in power, the aging monarch King Lear divests his throne to his three
daughters of indifferent nature. Ungrateful and scheming, Goneril and Regan abuse their frail father’s love while only his youngest daughter, the outcast Cordelia, remains committed to his well-being.
“This leaves Lear heartbroken and confused, as he and his faithful fool seek strange followers and comfort elsewhere. Now wandering in the midst of a raging storm – Lear battles the storm in his head and in his heart as he navigates a new political reality.”
Again, the themes are timeless – political intrigue, family politics and even questions of palliative care.
“His kingdom is taken away from him, as is his rank. His self-respect and dignity are also taken away, as he’s beginning to lose his abilities,” explained Usher, pointing out the modern-day connections to those battling a dementia or Alzheimer’s disease for example.
“The whole concept of dignified, geriatric care is part of that, too.”
In the bigger picture, politically speaking, there are also sudden shifts of power seen across the world constantly. Also, the concept of legacy – what do we leave behind? And in particular, what do people of power – who lose that power – ultimately leave behind as their impact on their world?
“Although this play was written 400 years ago, we recognize these characters in us.”
Another event Bard on Bower supporters may want to check out is Frolic at Fratters.
Four high-energy performances of music, dance and show tunes by a talented cast of young professionals are set for July 20th-21st, July 28th and Aug. 7th.
Tickets to Bard on Bower remain free again this year, but donations are encouraged and gratefully accepted. Tickets for Frolic at Fratters are $20 each, and are available through Fratters or at the door. For more information, check out www.primestocktheatre.com.