A new version of Hamlet starring Ian McKellen in an “age-blind” production will begin rehearsing next week, marking what is thought to be the first major play to start preparing for a post-lockdown performance.
It is being directed by Sean Mathias, and marks his inaugural season at the Theatre Royal Windsor.
No dates have been set for performances, but rehearsals will begin in accordance with government guidelines.
A statement said: “The schedule, from June 29, 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.”
Produced by Bill Kenwright, Hamlet will be followed by Martin Sherman’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, with McKellen as Firs the elderly manservant.
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.”
McKellen said he felt “lucky to be working again”, thanks to “Kenwright’s inspiring optimism and Mathias’s invitation to re-examine Hamlet”, 50 years after he first played the role.
Kenwright added: “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.”
He said he was not ready to announce an opening night yet but added he was 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,” he said.
The cast includes Ben Allen, Emmanuella Cole, Alis Wyn Davies, Oli Higginson, Nick Howard-Brown, Jonathan Hyde, Asif Khan, Missy Malek, and Jenny Seagrove.
It has set design by Lee Newby, costume design by Loren Elstein, lighting by Jamie Platt and sound design by Adam Cork.