For those who don’t know, Updike’s novel tells the story of Gertrude and Claudius, the “villains” of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The story gives readers a fresh look at several famous Shakespearean characters and adds new substance to what many consider is the Bard’s greatest play.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jim Helsinger, Artistic Director at Orlando Shakes, about the Theater’s plans for the upcoming production.
OST: How were you first introduced to Gertrude and Claudius?
JH: I purchased a copy of the book in 2001 after my friend and Board Chair Rita Lowndes introduced it to me. Rita was fascinated by it. One day, she said to me “Jim, I think we should adapt this.” I agreed with her, and thought it was a great idea.
OST: Why do you feel Gertrude and Claudius is theatrical enough to create a stage version?
JH: Hamlet is one of William Shakespeare’s most famous works, and Gertrude and Claudius are seen in a villainous way. So, the idea of doing their love story…well, I think it would be beautiful.
OST: What is your main vision or goal for the production?
JH: My main vision, right now, is to create a great play with Mark St. Germain. He is very talented, and I’m very excited to have him working on this with us. Our goals for the future are to hold a reading of Gertrude and Claudius at PlayFest 2017, premiere the production in 2019, and, if all goes well, eventually take it to New York.
OST: Even though Gertrude and Claudius isn’t an original work by William Shakespeare, how do you feel it fits into the Shakespearean Canon?
JH: I believe it fits in really well, because people are fascinated by these characters and everyone wants to know more about them. Take Star Wars: Rogue One, for example, it’s a story that gives the audience more insight into the film Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. That is what John Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius does for Hamlet. Once you see the story of Gertrude and Claudius you will never look at Hamlet the same way again.