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9M Theatre brings Hamlet to a modern setting

Run at The Staircase of the Shakespeare classic exploring the effects of isolation, loneliness, obsession and loss begins with sold-out show.

Having opened its run of Hamlet with a sold-out performance March 1, 9M Theatre has shown that there’s a healthy appetite for the Bard in Hamilton. This is the fourth Shakespearean play that 9M founder Liz Buchanan has directed, calling herself “every high school English student’s worst nightmare.” Previously, she has helmed King Lear, Romeo & Juliet (for Flint & Steel Productions) as well as Macbeth.

In actuality, audiences have responded positively to 9M and Buchanan’s previous offerings: “My favourite compliment I've gotten about past shows has been, ‘I read this in English class, but when I saw your show I could actually understand what was going on.’”

What’s the allure for Buchanan when it comes to presenting Shakespeare? “It doesn’t hurt that the production rights are free!” she jokes. 

“I never have a shortage of talented actors to choose from. There are so many diverse and talented actors in Hamilton with a lot of skill in Shakespeare.” And, beyond her own genuine love for the plays, Buchanan explains that, “there's also something a bit beautiful about the ritual of doing Shakespeare. Actors around the world for hundreds of years have tackled King Lear or Hamlet, and there's something kind of special about that shared experience.” 

Lucas Blakely as Hamlet in 9M Theatre's production of Hamlet. All photos: Kasey Bridges, Kreations Photography

At the same time, the longevity of the plays provides an opportunity for casts and companies to bring something “new and different” to the stage, and with this production, Buchanan says, “This is the first time I've done Shakespeare in a modern setting.” 

The promotional photos for Hamlet show the cast attired in modern costumes.

“In a lot of ways, the play feels very modern. The loneliness and isolation the characters experience feels very relevant to today,” Buchanan says. “While Hamlet isn't perhaps a terribly likeable hero, I think many of us can relate to his struggle with his sense of self and place in the world, precarious mental health, and the deep pain he's experiencing from loss.” 

However, it is important to note that this production is not a modern reimagining of the text itself. The modern costuming is more of a reflection of Buchanan’s desire to keep “the focus on the actors and the text,” and the production design simple and light.

Annalee Flint as Ophelia and Scott Buchanan as Laertes.

Though it hardly seems necessary, 9M provides a succinct synopsis of Hamlet in its media release: “(Hamlet) tells the tragic tale of the Prince of Denmark’s revenge on his uncle Claudius for the murder of his father. Unfortunately, Hamlet’s obsession brings down many of the people around him and the story leaves us considering the consequences of isolation, fear, and power.” 

Even if a person has never read the play nor seen it performed, Hamlet is chock full of famous lines that have wormed their way into popular memory or the collective consciousness: “To be or not to be,” “To thine ownself be true,” “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” Buchanan’s personal favourite is “Tis neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.”

In preparation for this run, Buchanan was tasked with paring down the text to leave it a reasonable length for audiences and manageable in terms of cast size. It seems a daunting prospect to modify a play when the source material is so iconic.

“Cutting Shakespeare is hard for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, I'm quite willing to acknowledge that it's wildly presumptuous of me to think I know better than one of the greatest playwrights in history what should and shouldn't be in the play,” Buchanan says. 

Lucas Blakely as Hamlet and Tommy Taylor as Claudius.

“And I should say that, while some of my cuts are for time, the vast majority are to get the cast down to a sensible size, so I ended up cutting around a lot of extra characters who aren't necessarily crucial to the play … while, of course, still making sure the play makes sense.”

“Then there's the poetry. I've always been pretty careful to … not mess with the meter. Shakespeare made it extra hard with Hamlet  though as very little of it is written in prose,” she explains. “It's possible people wouldn't notice if I dropped a few syllables here or there, but I would. If you've done Shakespeare enough you start to have a sense of the rhythm and can tell when something is off.”

Buchanan wants to set lovers of Shakespeare at ease: “Rest assured that the key speeches, and a vast majority of the beautiful poetry remains intact.”

The cast and crew of Hamlet is composed of returning 9M Theatre and Hamilton theatre regulars, including Annalee Flint-McClung, Gregory Cruikshank, Scott Buchanan, and David Faulkner-Rundle, as well as talented performers new to the company or community. Among those in the latter category is actor Lucas Blakely, a graduate of theatre and drama studies at University of Toronto/Sheridan College, playing Hamlet himself.

Buchanan says, “I think we have some really unique takes on the characters that the audience will find very moving.”


Hamlet continues at The Staircase, March 7-9, 7:30 p.m. and March 3, 2 p.m.
27 Dundurn St. N., Hamilton
Run time: 2 hours 30 minutes, plus intermission
Suitable for ages 12 and up 
Tickets available here or by emailing 9mtheatreinfo@gmail.com

David Faulkner-Rundle as Polonius, Tommy Taylor as Claudius, and Felicia Valenti as Gertrude.
Lucas Blakely as Hamlet, Muneer Malik-Noor as Horatio, and Jeff Nguyen as Marcellus.

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