In its 34th season, Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan will continue to impress audiences with their beloved modern adaptation of the classics.
Three plays are on the ballot this season, all promising to parlay the extensive depth and talent of the cast and crew.
Directed by Greg Ochitwa, wit and lighting quick comedy is the pillar of the lighter of the three acts, The Merry Wives of Windsor. Often described as Shakespeare's most farcical play, the comedy centres around Sir John Falstaff conspiring to seduce Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford, the wives of two prominent Windsor citizens. The women play along with him in order to expose him, but in true Shakespearian fashion, it is laced with complication, antics and duping, all while running alongside a secondary plot concerning the comical shenanigans of another pair of would-be suitors.
Under the watchful eye of Kelli Fox, is the darker, well known and meticulously crafted tragedy of a royal house in complete disarray, Hamlet. Ghosts spur along Hamlet as an uncle plots his murder while Ophelia is driven into madness and despair. Poison is the weapon that spells demise at the end of this heart-wrenching tale.
Taking the lead in the returning favourite is Skye Brandon, who also plays a Fairy and Justice Robert Shallow in Merry Wives. The northern Saskatchewan native, who directed Richard III in 2017 and has an extensive resume with the production company dating back to 2006, holds a deep passion for Shakespeare’s work, so much so he is currently an Interdisciplinary Masters student at the University of Saskatchewan, where he is applying historical research to the productions.
“It was always the story that got to me,” he said. “It may have language barriers and syntax constructions that are odd to our ears but the story still runs out and the stakes are always so high.”
For Brandon, coming into the role of Hamlet for the first time late in his career is a rewarding privilege. His biggest hurdle has been carving out time to balance work and his young daughter, though it is a challenge he is facing head-on. Most rewarding, he said, is when he as an actor, can make the production understandable for the crowd.
"I love it when people come and see a production and they chat with me after and they say, maybe even surprisingly so, I understood it,” he said. “When someone who maybe thought, ‘Shakespeare is boring or I am not smart enough to get it,’ when they come and see it in person and we can make it clear, that is the challenge I love as an actor.”
The third act on the ballot is Titus A. puppet revenge. The puppets will be on display on a new special second stage on the site. They will tell the story of the most violent and bloody tragedy ever performed at the festival. Dismemberment, disembowelment and cannibalism will all play out with an amazing set of carefully crafted rod puppets. This show is recommended for those aged 16 and up due to its graphic content. Following, patrons will have the opportunity to enjoy a post-show reception on the Prairie Lily beginning at 9:30 p.m. with a cash bar and free snacks.
As is the nature of Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, casts are used in repertoire to alternate between the plays all summer long. All 14 actors will take the stage for Merry Wives, but only five in Titus A. and nine performing Hamlet. Brandon is the sole cast member only playing a single role in Hamlet, with others taking on six or seven.
"It is quite interesting to watch them leave as one character and come back on as somebody else,” he said.
As in years past, the tradition of men playing women’s roles will continue, adding a unique dynamic to the production, such as Horatio being played by returning actress Kate Herriot.
Most exciting for Brandon is the opportunity to take the stage alongside a cast packed with some of Saskatchewan’s foremost talent.
“I love it when Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan shakes things up, sometimes that is by need or by design,” he said. “I like it when people come and see it and go, ‘I remember how it was done this time.’ People are really aware of past productions and it is nice to mingle with the long-standing patrons of the festival.”
With the movement of the main stage further north on the site, the increased tree coverage and distance from the roadways promises a more intimate experience along the banks of the river.
Productions run from July 4 to August 19, with tickets on sale now. They can be bought from Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan’s box office to experience riveting and inventive theatre on the shores of the South Saskatchewan.
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