Sir Ian McKellen’s return to the role of Hamlet, 50 years after he first took on the role, has been keenly awaited by theatregoers as a post-lockdown treat. It has now been confirmed that the production, announced last year, will open this summer at the Theatre Royal Windsor with a company of actors – also including Steven Berkoff, Jenny Seagrove and Francesca Annis – who will then present The Cherry Orchard. Both plays will be directed by Sean Mathias in a season produced by Bill Kenwright.
McKellen, who turns 82 in May, will begin previews for Hamlet in June. It is billed as an “age, colour and gender-blind production” and will offer a number of audience members the opportunity to sit on stage. Shakespeare’s tragedy will be followed in September by Chekhov’s masterpiece, adapted by Martin Sherman and starring McKellen as Firs, Annis as Ranevskaya and Seagrove as Gaev.
“I’ve acted in both these masterpieces before – and seen them scores of times,” said McKellen. “They are in that select group of classic plays which bear, even demand, a regular look, even reappraisal. By actors, directors, producers – and audiences.”
Covid-secure rehearsals for Hamlet first began last summer. It would never have crossed his mind to play the role again, he has said. “Young Hamlet”, as he is referred to in the play, is generally thought to be no older than 30. McKellen said that portraying the prince of Denmark now provided a way to “look into how much we need to see what we’re hearing”. Rehearsals for the production will recommence next week.
Kenwright said: “Sean, Ian and I started this journey during the first lockdown last summer. At that time it was not to be, but while we will continue to work in steadfast accordance with government and scientific guidelines, and the safety of all our priority, we are hugely optimistic that our rehearsals will lead us to a pretty historic opening on 21 June.”
Tickets for the first three weeks will be on sale for a reduced capacity as a precaution until further guidance and clarification of dates for the easing of social distancing is provided by the government. Performances from 12 July to 4 October will be available with no social distancing in place. Tickets go on general sale on Saturday.
McKellen played Hamlet in a UK and European tour in 1971 with Prospect theatre company. “I didn’t reckon I was any good,” he has remarked.
On Friday new dates were also confirmed for another major staging of Hamlet: the Young Vic’s production, starring Cush Jumbo and directed by Greg Hersov, will run from 27 September to 13 November. It had been due to open last summer.