I recently watched an innovative new performance of Hamlet. It starred 82-year-old Ian McKellen as the lead. Remember Hamlet is supposed to be about a young prince who seeks to avenge his father’s death. The play used age-, gender- and race-blind casting – so young characters (like Hamlet) are sometimes played by older actors (like McKellen) and male characters are sometimes played by females. I’m not sure if it worked, but it did rekindle my interest in Shakespeare – he’s the master of showing the darker side of the human condition. But it also made me think of how else we could update Shakespeare. What sprung to mind was to mix it up with current favourite TV show – Love Island!

For the few that aren’t aware – it’s a reality show that thrusts a bunch of attractive young people on a villa in a sunny location. The contestants spend most of their time in swimwear, try to form couples, undergo various challenges and try to win a public vote. The show originated in the UK but now has versions all over the world from the US to Nigeria.

On first inspection the show is the epitome of ‘trash’ TV. Women with artificially enhanced upper bodies, men with six-packs and lots of trivial exchanges between the two. But if you get deeper into the show, it’s a study of human relationships. The importance of loyalty within couples, the bond of friends and the poison of gossip. Surely the perfect context for Shakespeare.

In fact, young Hamlet would be the perfect contestant. He is cynical, indecisive and prone to impulsive acts. In the current season of Love Island, Hamlet would be a mix of Hugo (indecisive), Toby (impulsive) and Jake (cynical). Though Hamlet would be much darker than the cheery contestants of Love Island. Perhaps, Hamlet’s love interest Ophelia could also be a contestant. Her abiding traits are her femininity and her lack of agency – everyone is always telling her what to do. Ophelia would likely resemble Liberty the closest.

As it happens, just as Hamlet and Ophelia are torn apart in the play – their quasi counterparts on Love Island Jake and Liberty are on the verge of breaking up (or already have – it’s tough to say). And in a Shakespearean turn, their break-up is as much due to the whisperings of others colliding with paranoia of the couple. What’s more Shakespearean than that?

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