Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

Keeping it in the family

Plus: the Globe’s King Lear is one of the ugliest productions I’ve ever seen

A new orthodoxy governs the casting process in Hollywood. An actor’s ethnicity must match the character’s. If you extend this decree to Shakespeare, you need Macbeth to be played by a Highlander, Shylock by a Venetian Jew, Richard III by an English hunchback and Cleopatra by an Egyptian who has slept with her brother. As for Hamlet, the play can only be entrusted to a family of incestuous Scandinavians. Gyles Brandreth (whose name means ‘firebrand’ or ‘sword’ in old Norse) has anticipated the trend by staging a production alongside his son and his daughter-in-law. Benet Brandreth plays the Dane while his wife, Kosha, plays Ophelia, Gertrude, Rosencrantz, Laertes and Horatio. Brandreth Snr takes the older roles.

This amazing stunt includes some genuine discoveries. The trimmed-down text, ingeniously edited by Imogen Bond, deserves to become a standard version for students and am-dram performers wishing to explore the drama with a tiny cast. Gone is the opening scene on the battlements, which never plays as well as it reads. Guildenstern has been cut and Rosencrantz, transformed into a female, works very well as a courtly sexpot whose conquests include both Hamlet and Claudius. Benet Brandreth’s bespectacled Dane looks too well-coiffed to be a murderous, half-mad medieval prince and he roars and flails his arms around a little too readily. The real-life Benet is a barrister and RSC voice coach and he’s at his best here when Hamlet relaxes and larks about with the players. ‘To be or not to be’ is done with great originality. Hamlet recites the opening lines from a book of quotations, and then interrupts himself at ‘aye there’s the rub’ and delivers the rest as if it were commentary on the preceding text. Quite a brainwave.

At times the play’s complexities defeat the experiment.

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