In the midst of an incredibly difficult period for London theatre, it is refreshing to have something positive to talk about for a change.
That’s why we were so pleased to hear news of a new version of Hamlet with Sir Ian McKellen no less playing the Prince.
The production, by Windsor’s Theatre Royal Windsor, will see one of England’s greatest ever actors’ step into the shoes of arguably Shakespeare’s greatest ever dramatic creation.
Although the choice of the 81 year old Mckellen will certainly raise eyebrows in the theatre world, the actor’s appointment is in keeping with the recent tradition of colour, gender, and age blind casting in the industry.
Mckellen may well be the oldest actor to attempt the role, but with a wealth of theatre, film and television roles behind him, the star is certainly accomplished enough to pull it off.
This is not the first time that the actor has played the role, either. Mckellen first played the Prince at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1971, in a production that won mix reviews from the critics but was loved by a younger generation of fans of the Bard.
Indeed, in McKellen’s younger years, the actor was so successful in his Shakespearian roles that at one point he was nicknamed “the new Olivier from Wigan”.
The Theatre Royal’s new production will be directed by Sean Mathias with Bill Kenwright handling production chores.
Mathias was encouraged that work could finally begin on the play, even though the director had no idea when the play would be allowed to open. “We walk a tightrope through the forest whilst we await news of when we may actually perform in front of a live audience, but it will be invigorating to leave the house and get into a rehearsal room and be a part of British theatre returning to the boards,” he said.
Hamlet’s age has long been debated by fans of the play. At one point in the play Shakespeare indicates that the character is thirty years of age, but his behaviour throughout the play seems to suggest that he is much younger.
Traditionally the role has been played by much younger actors with the part increasingly seen as a stamp of authenticity for up and coming young actors.
However, Mckellen’s casting is a refreshing nod to the vast experience and skill of the country’s older actors, many of whom are forced to play supporting roles once they have turned fifty.
“I feel lucky to be working again” said Mckellen of the role. “Thanks to Bill Kenwright’s inspiring optimism and Sean Mathias’s invitation to re-examine Hamlet, 50 years on from my first go. So now we will meet again. Don’t know when but do know where – Theatre Royal Windsor!”
More information about the Theatre Royal, Windsor’s new version of Hamlet can be found here.
For information on other great theatre productions in London, please click here.