It was only a matter of time before Tom Hiddleston tackled the most famous role in all of theatre. The actor has been cast as Hamlet in a production that will be directed by Kenneth Branagh to raise money for the drama school, RADA.
He follows fellow theatre-actors-turned-superstars-turned-theatre-actors Jude Law, Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Scott, to name but the three most recent examples, into the part. While it may look like another case of craven celebrity casting, it is very much not, though the box office returns will be suitably stellar.
The Bard is in his Blood
Hiddleston has been building up to play the Prince for years, having starred as Prince Hal/ King Henry in The Hollow Crown, the BBC’s acclaimed adaptation of Shakespeare’s history plays in 2012. He is a theatre actor by training and the Bard is in his blood. When I interviewed him about Henry V, he explained how Shakespeare influenced his superhero roles:
“When I started playing Loki, Edmund in Lear and Iago in Othello were my touchstones. Two impeccable bad guys, let’s throw in a bit of Cassius from Julius Caesar, a lean and hungry look and we’re off to the races. I think Ken Branagh was consciously tracking the journey of Henry V when he was thinking about Thor.”
Indeed, it is no surprise that Hiddleston has teamed up with Branagh for his great acting challenge. Branagh has been his mentor since he spotted the younger actor playing Cassio opposite Ewan McGregor in Othello at the Donmar Warehouse in 2008.
The pair co-starred in Cyrano on Radio 3, then Hiddleston played Branagh’s sidekick in a sublime production of Chekhov’s Ivanov in the West End and in the BBC’s Wallander before Branagh cast him as Loki in Thor, a role he reprised in The Avengers. They share an old-fashioned actor’s sensibility, a fine mellifluous voice, and a love of the text.
As for how Hiddleston’s Hamlet will be, it is hard to tell. More earnest than Scott’s current playful turn; less robust than Law and probably, given Branagh is at the helm, less experimental than Cumberbatch’s mixed success at the Barbican.
One thing is certain, this is a very canny and exciting way of doing the old “it’s time for my Hamlet, darlings,”routine. The production will run for three weeks only, from 1 September, in the intimate, potentially electric, setting of the drama school’s 160-seat theatre. Tickets are being sold by ballot. The cast is a mixture of RADA graduates and established talents like Lolita Chakrabarti as Gertrude and Sean Foley as Polonius.
The whole thing has the air of a high-class experiment but if it goes right, and if Hiddleston’s schedule allows it, a West End/ Broadway transfer seems more than likely. If it goes wrong, well, RADA still get to build their new theatre and Hiddleston has ticked off another role on his to-do list.
This post was originally posted to iNews on August 1st 2017 and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.