Hamlet by William Shakespeare. The Theatre Royal, Windsor to 25 September 2021. 1*. William Russell

Great actors are allowed to be indulged but somebody should have taken Sir Ian McKellan aside and said that it was not a good idea he should play Hamlet at his age. The result is Compo at Elsinore, a very gay castle indeed where Polonius is played by Frances Barber, a late arrival to the cast,as a kind of Wren officer of indeterminate sex, Ophelia is a guitar toting hippy given to screaming songs, and as Gertrude a stick thin Jenny Seagrove in the world’s worst wig under which lurks a second even more awful wig behaves like a lady who lunches looking for lunch while declaiming her lines in what one assumes is a Danish accent.
Director Sean Mathias has delivered a car wreck of an age blind production. The play has been considerably filleted, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern seem to be around all the time – they are, of course, Hamlet’s gay chums – and go to their deaths not a moment too soon. The ghost of his Father appears to be a woman and enters through a trapdoor mid stage down which later on Hamlet disappears – the world’s worst pantomime dame repeating history.
The press night audience applauded and cheered at the end, but whether from delight or relief that it had finally come to an end who knows. McKellan in the Scottish play at the Donmar gave one of the great Shakespearen performances of the age. This one rivals Peter O’Toole’s legendary performance in it as one of the worst.
He is admittedly quite spry, manages a sword fight of sorts at the end, and to descend a vertical ladder but the lines get mumbled and his first appearance – the entire cast walk on – in full funereal black with top hat and dark glasses looks like someone from a Hammer horror has intruded on the party. After that we get the full Compo thanks to the costume designer. If only Kathy Staff could have played Gertrude. Hamlet does not have to be a university student in his teens or even a post graduate one. He could conceivably be one of those students who never stop being one. But an old age pensioner apparently down on his luck he is not. Olivier, after all, was no teen idol when he essayed it on film.
The press night audience applauded and cheered at the end, but whether from delight or relief that it had finally stopped who knows.It has been a rocky ride to the first night with cast members departing hurling abuse. It is a pity they did not all head for home weeks ago.
The theatre was not socially distanced and this Hamlet is not worth risking a ping for.

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