Ian McKellen to star as Hamlet in age-blind production

Ian McKellen HamletSir Ian McKellen is set to star as Hamlet in an upcoming, age-blind production of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy.

Though the role of the introspective Prince of Denmark is traditionally played by younger actors in their 20s or 30s, nothing is stopping McKellen, aged 81, from taking it on again after having played Hamlet 50 years ago. The octogenarian has played many significant Shakespearean roles in his career, including King Lear three times.

According to a report by The Guardian, this new production will be produced by Bill Kenwright and directed by Sean Mathias and serve as the latter’s first production in his inaugural season in charge of Theatre Royal Windsor. Mathias and McKellen have been frequent collaborators over the decades.

Given the ongoing crisis and its impact on the performing arts industry, rehearsals for the play will strictly adhere to health and safety guidelines such as physical distancing, screening, hygiene, and wearing of PPE.

Though there are no opening dates yet, Mathias expressed his excitement about starting work on the project, saying:

“We walk a tightrope 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.”

Kenwright also emphasized the importance of beginning preparations:

“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.”

McKellen showed his enthusiasm about jumping back into theater work:

“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!”

Gender-blind casting in Shakespeare has become fairly common with notable examples like Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female Julius Caesar, Glenda Jackson as King Lear, Maxine Peake as Hamlet, Michelle Fairley as Cassius, and Tamsin Greig as Malvolia in Twelfth Night.

Age-blind casting happens less frequently, as with Derek Jacobi playing Mercutio in Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 production of Romeo and Juliet. But in a recent poll by the Stage newspaper, 2/3 of respondents were in favor of it.

McKellen’s Hamlet will certainly add to a greater appreciation for this style of Shakespeare, whenever audiences will get to see it.