A new production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, directed by Sean Mathias with Ian McKellen in an age-blind interpretation of the young Prince, will go into rehearsals on Monday 29 June.
Produced by Bill Kenwright, Hamlet will herald Sean Mathias’ inaugural season at Theatre Royal Windsor and will be followed by Martin Sherman’s adaptation of Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, with McKellen as Firs the elderly manservant.
This is the first major UK production to begin rehearsals since theatres went dark in March in accordance with government guidelines to stem the spread of COVID-19.
However, rehearsals are now able to start with strict measures in place to ensure the safety of the company. The schedule, from 29 June, will be carefully choreographed around social distancing, screening, hygiene, and PPE, with close adherence to the latest government guidelines. There will be a daily review of the protection protocol based on practical considerations learnt in the rehearsal room. If the show can’t yet go on, rehearsals at least will.
Alongside Ian McKellen, the production will feature, Ben Allen, Emmanuella Cole, Alis Wyn Davies, Oli Higginson, Nick Howard-Brown, Jonathan Hyde, Asif Khan, Missy Malek, and Jenny Seagrove.
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 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.”
Ian McKellen said: “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. So now we will meet again. Don’t know when but do know where – Theatre Royal Windsor!”
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.”