April 23rd is National Talk Like Shakespeare Day. To honor the upcoming occasion, here’s a look at 11 of the strangest productions, original plays, and acting companies based on the Bard’s inimitable work.
1. Hamlet ... in 15 minutes
Written by Tom Stoppard, whose earlier Hamlet-based play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead earned immense international acclaim, Fifteen-Minute Hamlet comically retells the classic tragedy twice—first in 13 minutes, and then again immediately thereafter in a heart-pounding two. Here’s a film version:
2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream … As Retold by The Beatles
In a TV special that aired in April 1964, the Beatles honored Shakespeare’s 400th birthday by putting on an extremely-abridged version of one of his most beloved works. Cast in this unforgettable version of the “play within a play” shown in Act V, Scene I of A Midsummer Night’s Dream were Paul McCartney as Pyramus, John Lennon as Thisbe, George Harrison as Moonshine, and Ringo Starr as a bumbling lion. Check it out!
3. Tiny Ninja Theater’s Macbeth
An advertisement describes this 2000 production as “Shakespeare’s classic tale of murder and intrigue performed by inch-high plastic ninjas and assorted dime store figures on a briefcase-sized stage. Grand spectacle on a tiny scale.” They've also done Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.
4. The Puppet Shakespeare Players
According to their mission statement, this unique production company aims at making Shakespeare’s work “accessible” through a host of creative methods, most notably puppets which “can be built to highlight aspects of a character that we want to exaggerate or to direct attention to certain ideas in Shakespeare that are so often hidden behind flowery language (and flowery acting).”
5. Othello: The Sassy Gay Friend Version
How would Othello have ended differently if a bombastic friend had encouraged Desdemona to dump her regularly-abusive boyfriend? The Second City Network took a stab at the question a few years back:
6. Words, Words, Words
We’re all familiar with the theory that “If one gave a million typewriters to a million apes, they’d eventually produce the works of Shakespeare.” But what if one of them gets writer’s block? In this David Ives play, three frustrated chimps lament their assigned task of writing Hamlet despite having absolutely no idea what it’s about, liberally quoting the bard in the process.
7. The Klingon Hamlet
Star Trek fans are well aware of the Klingons’ knack for referencing Shakespeare. A full translation of Hamlet in their distinctive tongue was first published in 1996 and a few highlights have since been performed on YouTube:
8. Ian McKellan’s Shakespeare Rap
In 2008, a recording of Sir Ian McKellan’s rendition of the Bard’s evocative eighteenth sonnet (which opens with “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) was digitally modified and mixed with beat-boxing and electronic music.
9. The People vs. Friar Laurence
Set immediately after the untimely deaths of the title characters in Romeo and Juliet, Friar Laurence is interrogated and must explain his role in their expiration (the monk raises some eyebrows for having given a coma-inducing potion to a 14-year-old girl) in this courtroom comedy.
10. The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company
Award winning rapper Akala has been running a series of workshops to highlight the links between the Bard’s prose and present-day rap since 2009, and later helped found The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company. Check out his TED talk on the project:
11. Silent Shakespeare
How can you honor the English language’s most famous wordsmith without using any of his dialogue? Arlington, Virginia’s Synetic Theater has, to date, staged nine Shakespearean plays via “pure visual poetry” with colorful sets and live music. This past March, the group gave their unique treatment to The Tempest, adding it to a repertoire that’s also included Antony & Cleopatra, The Taming of the Shrew, and King Lear.