SIR IAN McKELLAN is preparing to tread the boards once again for a new production of one of the Bard’s greatest plays.
Hamlet is to enter rehearsals at the Theatre Royal in Windsor from Monday, June 29 – the first movements in the famous venue since the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s part of a new season of plays produced by Bill Kenwright, and Sean Mathias is the artistic director.
This is a special production as it’s an age-blind show, meaning that Sir Ian will play the young prince.
And Sir Ian is committed to the historic theatre: later in the season – whenever it is allowed to start – he will have a role in Martin Sherman’s adaptation of Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard.
Hamlet is the first major UK production to begin rehearsals and is a boost for the theatre industry, which is facing an uncertain future.
Monday’s rehearsals will follow strict safety measures, including social distancing, screening, hygiene, and PPE, with close adherence to the latest government guidelines. The Theatre Royal will undertake daily reviews to ensure that everything is to the letter.
Sean Mathias said: “I have always been a fan of ensemble work so when Bill Kenwright asked me to be his Artistic Director at Windsor I saw a perfect opportunity to create a company and direct two of the greatest plays ever written.
“The disappointment at being halted by COVID 19 has now been replaced with encouraging signs that we can at least start to work on these beautiful plays with an exceptional company.
“We walk a tight rope through the forest while 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.”
And Sir Ian is looking forward to having a chance to perform as the Prince of Denmark once again. He took part in a European tour between March and October in 1971. He was 31 at the time.
Of that performance, he wrote: “Hamlet was a boy who knows exactly what has to be done but lacks the manly resources to do it. He grows up, until finally he is ready and the readiness is all. Shakespeare’s heroes all go on such painful journeys to maturity. I wore pants tucked into boots and a sweater under a fringed leather jacket. We had a psychedelic, multi-faceted Ghost, reflected in the mirrors of the set.”
Now, the famous actor can’t wait to get to the rehearsal room.
“I feel lucky to be working again, thanks to Bill Kenwright’s inspiring optimism and Sean Mathias’s invitation to re-examine Hamlet, 50 years on from my first go,” he said.
“So now we will meet again. Don’t know when but do know where – Theatre Royal Windsor.”
This will be the second time that Sir Ian has appeared at the theatre. Last year, he brought his solo show to the venue. It was a busy year: he also collaborated with Sean Mathias on Waiting and Godot, and No Man’s Land, in which he appeared with Patrick Stewart.
Hamlet will be one of a series of plays that the Theatre Royal will bring to the stage, once it has the green light to open its doors again.
Bill Kenwright said: “Sean, Ian and myself have been planning this season for some time now, and the truth is I couldn’t bear to see it slip away.
“So a lot of more planning, a great deal of determination – and I must admit some of the things I learned prior to the return of football – has got us to the place where all things theatrical start. Nothing is more important than this country’s, and indeed the world’s, health and safety, so we are not ready to announce an opening night yet.
“But I’m a great believer in making a start if a start is possible, and in this instance it is. I’m hopeful we will be enjoying a Windsor season in the forthcoming months.”