WORTH A LOOK?: ***
RUNTIME: 165 minutes (including 20-minute interval)
WHEN?: Monday 26 July 2021, booking to Saturday 25 September 2021
The concept of age-blind casting can have undergone no truer test than here with the 82-year-old McKellen playing the titular role of a character often thought to have been aged about 30.
- Read on for reasons including why you shouldn’t choose onstage seating if you see this production in Windsor
We’ve seen both Benedict Cumberbatch‘s and Andrew Scott’s fine Hamlets in recent years and McKellen’s can breathe easily in their company and there rarely can have been an actor who enunciates the lines with such clarity as McKellen does here.
He’s so good in fact that it’s easy to forget the implausibility of the age difference. What a pity then that there is so much going on around him in director Sean Mathias’ vision that seems unnecessarily distracting.
Jenny Seagrove makes for a reassuring Gertrude in every aspect other than her Scandinavian accent which no-one else in the cast has adopted and makes for a curious solo attempt to geographically locate this prince of Denmark tale.
We’re sitting in onstage seating and can’t make out much of what is happening in the scaffolding above us because of the obscured view and so can make out very little of what Francesca Annis is giving us as the Ghost.
Both Steven Berkoff as Polonius and Emmanuella Cole as Laertes withdrew from the cast and monstagigz favourite Frances Barber (MUSIK, Leicester Square Theatre, and An Ideal Husband, Vaudeville Theatre) brings a sense of humour to what can be the thankless Polonius role and sparks some much-needed laughter in this occasionally misfiring production.
We’ve also seen Lee Knight before (Coming Clean, Trafalgar Studios 2) and his casting as Rosencrantz plays on McKellen’s notion about Hamlet’s bisexuality and love for his longtime friend.
Much has been made about the appearance of an exercise bicycle and one of the most contemplative moments of the play appearing moments ahead of an impending haircut and they underline the notion that it is the confused vision here that is the problem rather than the age-blind nature of the central role.
Interest in the production is such however that we can see it transferring easily to the West End and should it do we’d advise going in with an open mind and avoiding the opportunity to sit on stage with one of this country’s greatest living actors.