When Shakespeare created Hamlet, even he couldn't have imagined that one day his tortured Prince of Denmark would be documenting the action on his iPhone, or choosing the musical score from his personal playlist, in halls of power made from glass and steel.
But when he seeks to expose his father's murderer at this year's Bard on the Beach, Hamlet – played by award-winning actor and Electric Company Theatre co-founder Jonathon Young – is surrounded by 21st-century power and prestige.
"It is brazenly, boldly and totally now – and it's so relevant, and so accessible," says Bard artistic director Christopher Gaze of the production, which is being directed by Electric Company's Kim Collier, and includes original music by Stars frontman Torquil Campbell. "The reaction at the dress rehearsal was just marvellous. People were really wowed by it."
This year's main-stage comedy, the gender-bending favourite Twelfth Night, is also set centuries after Shakespeare's time, in 1913 at the ritzy What You Will Hotel and Spa. Theatre Calgary's Dennis Garnhum directs as Feste (also played by Young) sings in the lounge, Malvolio manages the hotel, and the cross-dressing Viola has some awkward moments in the men's steam room.
"I have spent a lifetime doing these plays, but it was almost like watching it for the first time," Mr. Gaze says. "It's very evocative – and so pretty to look at."
The stylish productions are a bold statement for Bard – which expanded its capacity three years ago and was outfitted with a new high-end sound system this year – and one that Mr. Gaze hopes will add to the fest's faithful following.
"With the panache and boldness of both these productions, it will appeal to a lot more people," says the artistic director. "I think new people will say, 'I never went there before, but bloody hell, it's fantastic.'"
Twelfth Night and Hamlet are on the BMO main stage until mid-September. Measure for Measure and Elizabeth Rex open on the studio stage July 3 and July 5. Tickets include nightly pre-show talks. bardonthebeach.org