11 Questions with the Sizwe Banzi is Dead company – Matthew Xia

2013’s Genesis Future Directors Award-winner Matthew Xia brings his sell-out production of Sizwe Banzi is Dead back to the Young Vic. Here he answers our 11 Questions.

If you had to pick a favourite line from Sizwe Banzi is Dead, which one would it be and why?
“All I’m saying is be a real ghost, if that is what they want, what they’ve turned us into. Spook them into hell man.”
It’s beautifully poetic. I think it conveys both the position of the black man in apartheid era South Africa and the fire of frustration that burns brightly in Buntu’s heart.

What is your favourite play (seen, read or worked on)?
Thomas Ostermier’s captivating production of Hamlet.

What is your favourite midnight snack?
Pickled Onion Monster Munch.

What is your favourite word?
Cafuné – A Brazilian Portuguese word which conveys the feeling of running fingers tenderly through a loved ones hair.

What are you most passionate about?
My work.

If days were 28 hours long, what would you do with the 4 extra hours?
Write that novel I keep harping on about.

If you could be in a room full of any one thing, what would it be?

Favourite city and why?
London – a true cultural melting pot, flavoured by all those who have arrived here over many thousands of years.

Dogs or cats?
Cats. Dogs are far too demanding.

If you could have been born in any era, which would it be and why?
Ancient Greece, Athens, the birth of Democratic society and the beginnings of modern theatre and philosophy.

If you could have any one supernatural power which would you choose and why?
The power to know exactly what my fiancée is thinking at any given time.

Sizwe Banzi is Dead runs at the Young Vic until 15 March . Returns are available in person or by phone. To find out more, click here.

A Leap in the Dark

Young Vic’s artistic director David Lan speaking at the Goethe Institute on 17 May 2012

A few weeks after I was asked to give this talk, a large cardboard box arrived on my desk.  When I opened it, I discovered it was packed to the brim with brochures, each beautifully designed, all issued by the Goethe Institute announcing hundreds, maybe thousands, of events the Institute has sponsored, arranged, underwritten, endorsed or enabled over recent years.  Performances, conferences, exhibitions, readings – each a carefully constructed bridge (some wide, some narrow) linking a conversation taking place somewhere in Germany about fine art, about philosophy, about theatre, about literature with similarly lively conversations taking place in other parts of the world.

The theatre I run, the Young Vic, appears on some of those pages.  The Institute has supported us most generously.  It has enabled us to bring to London leading theatre designers, celebrated in Germany though unknown in the UK, to work with us in my theatre.  It has enabled two groups of my young directors to visit the many exceptional theatres of Berlin (once in 2006, once in 2009) seeing shows, talking to their directors, meeting younger German directors and so on.

When I invite young colleagues of mine to visit Berlin, I have one intention and one only.  This is, to use a phrase associated with the 1960s, to blow their minds.  There is a more vulgar version of this phrase, inappropriate to these august surroundings.  I want to suggest that vulgarism even if I don’t actually say it because I want to convey my intention to shock these young people.  I want to thoroughly unsettle them and shake them up with the discovery of what extraordinary things it is possible to do on a stage.

Until you experience Berlin theatre you can’t imagine it – a production of Moliere where it snows non-stop for 6 hours, or another which involves the lead actor plastering himself with a whole picnic’s worth of food while wearing a scooped-out watermelon skin as a helmet.  I offer just two typical examples.  And when you do experience this theatre, you become a little bit more free as an artist, and consequently a little bit more capable of communicating through art the complexity of your own special and individual experience of living in the world.

I know that when I say Berlin I could as well say Germany more generally – Hamburg, Frankfurt, Cologne – I could refer to the magnificent Three Kingdoms, a co-production between our own Lyric Theatre Hammersmith and Munich’s Kammerspiele (as well as Tallinn’s Theatre No99) now playing in London until the end of this week.

Why are the minds of these young directors blown?  Well, they’re impressed by the strength and subtlety of the acting.  They’re overwhelmed by the exuberance and expressiveness of the design.  But those are symptoms, I think, and not the underlying cause.

The cliché is to say of the work of the Schaubuhne or the Volksbuhne, for example: ‘this is directors’ theatre’ whereas our theatre is a ‘writers’ theatre’.  For decades the English theatre has closed its eyes – or, more accurately perhaps, held its nose – at this theatre, aghast at the arrogance, the egotism with which German directors rethink and remake plays which, amongst us respectful, tactful English, are considered sacred in conception as well as in detail.

But disdain gets us no distance.  Is it possible to say anything enlightening about what these apparent butchers and blasphemers are trying to achieve?

Well, they’re all individuals, and each no doubt believes all others are sheisters with similar generosity of spirit to that which English directors display when they talk about each other.  All the same, I want to generalise a little and try to describe what I think is going on.  I’m sure I won’t get very far but this event this evening celebrating Anglo-German collaboration seems, paradoxically, an opportunity to try to give a sense of where, in my opinion, the difference begins.

That’s one paradox.  Here’s another.

Despite the fact that the Goethe Institute has been at work in the UK with energy and success for 50 years, Britons barely know the work of Goethe at all.   Perhaps we know Faust Part 1But Part 2?  Or his other plays such as Tasso or Goetz von Berlichingen?  We know some of the poems because Schubert transformed them into songs – but the novels?  How many non-German speakers in the room have read Elective Affinities – or even that global best-seller of its day The Sorrows of Young Werther?

The same is true of me. I know Faust Part 1 and that’s about it – but the reason I know Faust Part 1 is particular.

I grew up in Cape Town.  While I was at school – I think I was about 16 – the drama teacher of a girls’ school down the road decided to direct Goethe’s Faust, an imaginative choice, you might say, but an odd one as it contains very few women’s parts– two, in fact, if you except sprites and witches.  Having decided, for reasons I can only guess at, not to offer the men’s parts to her students to play en travesti, she looked to neighboring boys’ schools. I was invited to give my Mephistopheles.  Which, I must admit, I was delighted to do.   Skin tight black leotards and a pair of nifty red horns.  I must have looked ridiculous, though people were, as I remember, kind enough not to point that out to my face – my heavily bearded and mustachioed face, that is.  Anyway …

Whenever I think about Goethe, whenever I think about Faust, one line of dialogue always comes back to me over the now more than 40 years.  At some early point in the play Mephistopheles describes himself like this:

‘I am he who wills evil but who does good.’  

What on earth did that mean?  I’m sure that even then I was aware that getting to the bottom of this most ambiguous of plays was asking rather a lot of a bunch of adolescents.  Even so, to play the part I had to speak this line and it puzzled me.

It’s a paradox, a contradiction.  He wills evil but he does good.  But if he knows that by doing some particular kind of evil he is, ultimately, doing good, why doesn’t he find some more effectively evil sort of evil to do?   How can the Devil consciously do good?  Thinking about this – to recycle a phrase I used earlier – blows your mind.

Of course, you remember the story.

When we first meet Faust, he is profoundly bored.  He has studied and mastered all legitimate forms of knowledge:

Philosophy have I digested

The whole of Law and Medicine.

From each its secrets I have wrested,

Theology as well thrown in.

Poor fool, despite this sweated lore

I am no wiser than before.

So – new idea – he decides to explore illegitimate knowledge, secret science, the dark arts.  In doing so he inadvertently conjures up Mephistopheles.

What Faust doesn’t know is that, in a prologue, Mephistopheles, whose job it is to corrupt human souls and win them over to the dark side, complains to God that human beings are such a push-over, are so easy to corrupt that he, like Faust, is bored to tears. God, knowing Faust to be an inherently good man, sets Mephistopheles the challenge of trying to corrupt him.

So the Devil offers Faust the famous bargain.  He offers Faust secret knowledge – in fact, omniscience.  Faust, if he agrees to follow the Devil’s path, will lead a uniquely privileged existence.  He will solve all the mysteries of the universe. But, if he is ever so enthralled by any part of this experience that he loses his cynicism and his ennui and begs for time to come to a stop, if he finds even one experience so enthralling that he longs for it to last forever, then his soul will be damned to hell.   In that case, game over: Mephistopheles 1, God zero.

However, however, however – and here’s the paradox – it is Faust’s character that in everything he does he pushes himself to the utmost limits. He can do nothing half-heartedly.  He’s not that kind of guy. In the very act of sinning, of breaking God’s laws, he is exploring and discovering his true God-given nature.  Yes, he is bad.  But he is so thoroughly, rigorously bad that in being bad he is giving expression to his essence.  And so, in the end, even though he sins he is saved.

Which is why Mephistopheles ‘wills evil but does good’.

I can’t be sure I quite saw all the way into this, in some ways, quite conventional argument of enlightenment theology while wearing my skin-tight black leotard.   But, as I say, the paradox bothered me and I have never able to quite let it go.

What is the paradox exactly?   That to find yourself, you have to lose yourself?   Or perhaps, better, to save yourself you have to be willing to lose yourself forever.  You must be prepared to risk eternal damnation.  Faust had no idea, after all, that in the prologue God had decided to take time out from all his other duties and keep a close eye on how his story panned out, that God was standing by, like a doting nanny with an infant, ready to catch him should he fall.

No, Faust has to blindly risk the lot, absolutely the lot.  He has to take a leap in the dark.

Thinking of my young directors tempted by me to set out for Berlin, I find it interesting that, as soon as the pact between Faust and Mephistopheles is signed, at once the Devil invites Faust to go on a journey, to fly over oceans, to cross many borders in order to see the old world in a new way.

Faust: Whither away?

Mephistopheles:        By any route you please

To see both high and low, by lands and seas.

Faust: What means of travelling do you intend?

Where are your servants, coaches, horses?


I only have to spread this cloak, my friend,

To bear us both, at will, on airy courses.

To questions of your luggage pay no heed

On this bold trip there’s no such paltry need.

A little jet of fire I have in store

To lift us from the earth.  With strength to soar,

We’ll mount the quicker, being light of gear.

Congratulations on your new career.

And off they fly.  Whether they delayed a day or two to make an application to the Goethe Institute for a travel grant is not recorded.

Ok – what do I take from this?

That the Devil, because he is a devil, tries to do a bad thing despite the fact that he knows – and tells us at the first moment we meet him – that it’s all going to go wrong, in other words it’s all going to go right, in the end.

And Faust, likewise, is totally committed to doing bad things but – provided he does these bad things enough, with total conviction, 100%, then he’s really doing a good thing and will end up in heaven.

In sum: if you are by nature a sinner, sin can be your salvation.

As this evening is a celebration of Germany in England and England in Germany, I’m going straight from Goethe to a writer that, famously, had a profound influence on him: Shakespeare.

Another memory from my childhood.

My father’s family came from a town in southern Lithuania now called Kaunas, then – when it was part of Russia – known as Kovna.  They lived in the Jewish ghetto called Slobotka.  It was right on the border with Poland, a border that over the centuries was constantly fought over.  Sometimes Slobotka was Russian, sometimes it was Polish.

Here’s my grandmother’s favourite joke:

One Lithuanian Jew to another:  Oh Mottel, how I wish the Poles would invade.

Second Lithuanian Jew:  Are you crazy?  Why do you wish the Poles would invade? 

First Lithuanian Jew:  Because I can’t stand another terrible Russian winter.

My grandparents were intellectuals and Trotskyites.  In the late 1920s they escaped poverty and pogroms and crossed many borders and oceans to arrive in Cape Town.  There they joined a cultural organization called the Lenin Club where they listened to Brahams on 78 rpm records and read Shakespeare.  My father acquired the habit and when I was a kid he used to read Shakespeare to me.  You may say that the Lenin Club has much to answer for.

I remember particularly his analysis of Polonius’ speech to his son Laertes.  Hamlet Act One, Scene Three.  Laertes is leaving Elsinore and heading back to France.   Before they part, Polonius gives him all sorts of advice and, as everyone knows, ends up like this:

To thine own self be true

And it must follow as the night the day

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

This to my father was wisdom.  ‘To thine own self be true.’

And so it seemed to me.  Until, when I was a bit older, I saw a production of the play and realized that, when you see the play in action, Polonius is undoubtedly, to put it simply, a fool.  So as soon as I could I said to my father: ‘You tell me that what Polonius says is wisdom but even Hamlet says of him: ‘These tedious old fools.’

But my father, of course, quick as a flash, had the answer: ‘It doesn’t matter what else he says in other parts of the play. Here in this speech he is talking to his son who is about to leave him.’ (This is my father speaking to his son who, he knows, will soon leave him.) ‘In that moment,’ said my dad, ‘Polonius speaks from the deepest part of his heart and tells his son the very best he knows.  When he does that, trust me, he knows what he’s talking about.’

Game, set – but not quite match.

Years and years later, I read an insightful piece in the New York Review of Books by the very brilliant Zadie Smith.  She was writing, as I remember, in the context of the current widespread criticism of so-called ‘multi-culturalism’.  Her point was how easily this brave social experiment can be misunderstood when it is assumed that each individual has only one identity.

Let’s pick an example at random.  Pakistani Muslims.  If such people choose to live in a closed community of similar people and consequently fail to assimilate – to become English in England and French in France and so on – this is held by certain critics to be a bad thing, a social experiment that has failed.

But it is too easily assumed by these critics that Pakistani Muslims living, say, in East London are Pakistani Muslims and nothing but.  Whereas, and here I’m paraphrasing Zadie Smith, don’t we know that a person may be a Pakistani Muslim in their parents’ home speaking Bengali to them but work, say, for Goldman Sacks – or the Green Party – speaking a distinctive dialect of English in that context and go clubbing at the weekends speaking yet another lingo there?  And read chick-lit and the London Review of Books and Noam Chomsky and the Motor Bike News.  And be gay and in love with a Maori and vote Lib Dem and store on their iPod Bob Marley, Stephen Sondheim, Lady Gaga and Shubert’s setting of Der Erlkoning.  (I had to bring Goethe back in somewhere.)

Polonius is a fool, she says, writing of this same speech of a father’s advice to his son, because no human being has a single self to be true to.  We all have many selves, multiple selves.

You may be a Jewish intellectual and the son of a Lithuanian Trotskyist who was sometimes a Russian and sometimes a Pole but you’re also a small time businessman and a South African, a white South African at that, and so on and so on.  Or son of same.

So here’s the gospel according to Zadie Smith:  accept and inhabit the paradox of having a complex social existence.  Be a devout Jew or Muslim or Christian at home, a socialist agitator at work and sing karaoke on Thursday nights in a Dalston pub.   And live these contradictions each to the nth degree, totally, irresolvably.

This is the theme of Hamlet – ‘I am this but I am also that’.  It’s not, as it is sometimes crudely expressed, that he is a man who can’t make up his mind.  Rather he is a man of many minds which contradict each other. ‘I am entirely this kind of person but I am also entirely that kind of person.’

At the start of Act Five he has given up trying to resolve it all: is my mother good or evil?  Is my dead father an angel or a demon? As he puts it: ‘The readiness is all.’

And at his death he is, like Faust, found acceptable to God, if only in the eyes of his best friend, Horatio, who knows him well in all his contradictoriness:

Good night, sweet prince,

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

But as soon as he’s dead, folks start trying to simplify him and sum him up.  Enter Fortinbras:

Bare Hamlet like a soldier to the stage

For he was likely, had he been put on

To have proved most royal.

How the hell does he know what Hamlet might likely have proved to be?  He doesn’t know him from Adam, he’s only just entered the room – but Hamlet can’t speak for himself and everyone who’s left alive is too upset to tell Fortinbras to shut up and Shakespeare lets this bunch of cliches end the play.

I remember somewhere Claude Levi-Strauss writing that a human being is like a species.  When someone dies it is like a whole species has been wiped out.

How do you know which species you are?  As the great Polish adventurer and journalist Ryszard Kapuchinski will tell you, you discover who you are by discovering who you are not.  And you do that by encountering ‘the other’ – whatever or whoever that other may be.  If you’re black maybe it’s white – if you’re English maybe it’s German.  And in that way you discover that what you are not may actually be merely what you are not – yet.

The readiness is all.

Or – to bring in a third wise man, F. Scott Fitzgerald:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

This is what I love about the Berlin theatre. It is a theatre of unresolved paradox, of multiple selves, of salvation through sinning.

It is authentically Shakespeare’s Hamlet – here I am thinking of Thomas Ostermeier’s Schaubuhne production recently seen at the Barbican – but every rule we take for granted is broken.  It is set on a muddy field  of battle – or is it actually (or also?) a rain-drenched Glastonbury-like rock festival?  One actress plays Ophelia but also at the same time Gertrude.  The electronic score was written yesterday.  Hamlet improvises, swears, abuses the audience as he wanders round the auditorium.   And, by some miracle, one’s impression is that everything Shakespeare knew about being human and everything the director and actors and designer can tell you about what being human means to them is intermingled in real time.  We are knee-deep in renaissance Denmark but up to our eyes in the present instant.  The show is profoundly this and profoundly that.   And inside and because of that paradox it is intoxicatingly alive.

Or the Schaubuhne’s current Misanthrope directed by Ivo van Hove.  As you’d expect, Alceste is full of bile, a man exceptionally depressed by and disgusted with mankind.  That’s what one expects of this character.  But what is thrilling is that at the same time he is a man overwhelmingly in love, literally floored by crazy, romantic, sensual adoration – and this wild, rubbish strewn, extravagantly trashed up performance tells you as much about what love is like as you’re ever likely to discover from any stage.

It is only rarely that I find this quality, this ability to express the violently paradoxical nature of human psychology and society – the profoundly irresolvable contradictoriness of it all – in English theatre.  To try to sum it up, what I miss is a theatre in which the human mind and human heart are pushed as far, as far, as far – to their furthest possible extent, until just before they snap – and in which they are as alive as anyone can be before they die.

We English editorialise, we rationalise, we explain.

The English theatre is a place where, by and large, one leaves in the cloak room one’s deepest, most adult understanding of what it is to be human alongside one’s umbrella.

Does it matter?

Yes.  Because there is a truth about ourselves which we are not telling, perhaps that we are not equipped to tell.   Or perhaps we do not really believe that the theatre is a place where it can be told.

If I were to be harsh, I would say that we English, like Faust in Act One Scene One, think we already know it all.  Or that we English, like Polonius, are under the delusion that to be true to oneself is a simple, straightforward thing.

And, in case my English colleagues feel I am ungenerous towards their achievements of which there are indeed many, let me be clear that I am not suggesting, though I may seem to be, that British theatre should become like German theatre or, indeed, like any other particular kind of theatre.  How could it be?  It has to be intensely itself – that’s the point.  But I am asking a simple thing: how can we know what we are except by encountering others?

Which is why I am so thrilled that the Goethe Institute made it possible to send my bands of young directors off to Berlin.  Later this year another group will spend some time in Munich.

What will they come back with?  I have no idea.  Honestly, I’m not bothered.  My job is just to say: travel the globe, study the rules and then break them, find out who you are.  Take a leap in the dark.

Congrats nominees!

Hamlet has been nominated for Best Shakespearean Production for the 2012 What’s On Stage awards! Plus Kyle Soller, seen in our productions of Government Inspector and The Glass Menagerie, has been nominated for London Newcomer of the Year.

Separately, Michael Sheen and Bill Mitchell’s The Passion for the National Theatre of Wales has been nominated for Theatre Event of the Year.

Congratulations to all the nominees. We have our fingers crossed for you.

11 questions with the cast of Hamlet: James Clyde

Next in our Hamlet cast series is James Clyde. You may have seen him in National Theatre’s Twelfth Night; Shakespeare’s Globe’s Macbeth; RSC’s Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night; Trafalgar Studios’ Jane Eyre; or on TV: ITV’s Croupier, Anonymous and Above Suspicion; BBC’s Between the Lines and New Tricks. He plays Claudius.

What do you like about your character in Hamlet?
His mind.

Favourite word?

Proudest moment?
Ruby’s birth

If you could have a room full of any one thing, what would it be?

If 28 hour days existed, what would you do with the extra four hours?
Walk, furiously

Favourite holiday?
Iona, Scotland

Weirdest quirk?
Watching rabbits on YouTube

Favourite play?

If you had one super power, what would it be?

Favourite midnight snack?

Day seats are available for all remaining performances of Hamlet. Tickets from £10, bought in-person on the day of the performance from 9.30am.

Hamlet Resource Pack: Ten Facts About Hamlet

Hamlet Resource Pack: Ten Facts About Hamlet

Welcome to the Resource Pack for Hamlet which runs at the Young Vic Theatre from 28 October 2011 to 21 January 2012. Resource packs are created for the majority of Young Vic shows, to provide an insight into the plays we produce and how we produce them. Please check back for interviews with the cast and creative team.

The Hamlet resource pack has been written by Lootie Johansen-Bibby.

Taking Part Department



1.  Hamlet is the most widely performed play in the world.  It is estimated that it is being performed somewhere every single minute of every day.

2. Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play and uncut would take between 4 and 5 hours to perform. Hamlet has 1530 lines, the most of any character in Shakespeare.

3. One of the earliest re-mounts of Hamlet was on board a ship called The Dragon, anchored of the coast of Sierra Leone in 1607.

4. It is believed that Shakespeare appeared in the play as the Ghost at the Globe.

5. In the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production of Hamlet in 2009, David Tennant used a real skull as a prop in the gravedigger scene. The skull had belonged to the composer André Tchaikowsky who bequeathed it to the RSC when he died in 1982 ‘for use in theatrical performance’. David Tennant was the first actor to use the skull on stage in a performance.

6. The first actor to play Hamlet was Richard Burbage, the lead actor in Shakespeare’s company, The King’s Men.

7. The castle in which the play is set really exists. It is called Kronborg castle and was built in the Danish port of Helsingør in 1420s by the Danish king, Eric of Pomerania.

8. At the end of every play performed at the Globe, four dancers, two dressed as women, would perform an upbeat, bawdy song and dance routine called a jig – even if the play was a tragedy like Hamlet.

9. Where now we say ‘I’m going to see a play’ in Elizabethan times, people talked about ‘going to hear a play’.

10. Shakespeare advertises his own work in the play.  When Polonius interrupts the players and proclaims that he enacted Julius Caesar and was ‘accounted a good actor’ in Act 3 scene 2, he is reminding the audience that he will soon be starring in Shakespeare’s production of Julius Caesar.

To Win or Not To Win FREE Hamlet Tickets?

Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Hamlet or another? I ask the average non- or semi-Shakespeare fan what their favourite story from arguably our most influential author is, and it usually has some correlation with what they studied back in the classroom.

If that is the case then I guess mine should be Macbeth, following my captivating performance as Macduff in Drama Studies (Year 9). My teacher (a harsh critic) called me “brittle”, whilst of course my mother found my display worthy of an Oscar (and ice-cream on the way home).

Nevertheless, I seem to lean towards Hamlet for some reason. I never studied it, or acted in it (‘brittle boy’ never made it past Year 9 Drama) and when I mention it to my inner circle (which consists of some very borderline Shakespeare fans), I get that timeless query: “Is that the one with ‘To be or not to be…’” Despite that lack of inspiration, a combination of internet exploring, coupled with DVDs watching many from Sir Lawrence Olivier to Kenneth Branagh take on the role of the Prince of Denmark drowning in a sea of treachery, revenge, incest, moral corruption, madness and revenge means this classic, powerful tragic tale still gets my vote every time.

That’s explains my personal excitement, and why I can rest assured a mouth-watering on stage adaptation with Michael Sheen (Underworld, Twilight, Frost/Nixon, Kingdom of Heaven) in lead role, awaits those lining up to watch Hamlet at the Young Vic Theatre this winter.

And for any teenagers around the UK (some of which may be shifting through Shakespeare for their new year exams), the Young Vic + Penguin’s Spinebreakers Hamlet Script Writing Competition is your time to showcase your own play-writing skills for a chance to experience Hamlet full on. This is not only a fun opportunity, but a chance to step into Shakespeare’s shoes and inspire David Lan (Young Vic’s Artistic Director) with your own storytelling on the themes of ‘madness and revenge’. 2 winners in return will receive a FREE pair of tickets to watch Hamlet at the Young Vic as well as autographed posters and programmes, with 13 runners-up getting a Spinebreakers special edition of the book.

The Hamlet Script-Writing Competition runs until 9 January 2012. Enter here.

From Dwain Lucktung, editor of Penguin’s Spinebreakers.co.uk

11 questions with the cast of Hamlet: Pip Donaghy

First up in our Hamlet cast series is Pip Donaghy! He plays Barnardo, Player King and the Gravedigger.

What do you like about your character in Hamlet?
My first players’ frailty

Favourite word?

Proudest moment?
My God! I’m a dad!

If you could have a room full of any one thing, what would it be?

If 28 hour days existed, what would you do with the extra four hours?

Favourite holiday?
Applecross – Scottish Highlands

Weirdest quirk?
Concentrating on being in the present

Favourite play?
Juno and the Paycock

If you had one super power, what would it be?

Do you have any regrets?
Not playing Falstaff

Favourite midnight snack?
Cheese on toast

Day seats are available for all remaining performances of Hamlet. Tickets from £10, bought in-person on the day of the performance from 9.30am.

Hamlet Resource Pack: An Introduction

Welcome to the Resource Pack for Hamlet which runs at the Young Vic Theatre from 28 October 2011 to 21 January 2012. Resource packs are created for the majority of Young Vic shows, to provide an insight into the plays we produce and how we produce them. Please check back for interviews with the cast and creative team.

Taking Part Department



Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of the most famous plays in the world.  It has been translated and performed all over the world, on stage and on screen.  Quotations from the play have become embedded in the language we use today: ‘neither a borrow nor a lender be’, ‘suit the action to the word, the word to the action’, ‘to be or not to be’, ‘the lady doth protest too much methinks’ – all came from Hamlet.  It has been a major influence on culture and on literature, from numerous critical studies, to new plays and stories based on the characters. And, for an actor, young Hamlet is a part that everyone seems to aspire to play.

The play was written sometime between 1599 and 1601.  It is difficult to say precisely when, because publishing worked in a very different way then to now.  It was not so easy to simply type, print and copy; all the texts would have been written by hand.

Three early versions of Hamlet exist, called the First Quarto, the Second Quarto and the First Folio .  The versions are all slightly different – some lines have been added or omitted, and some words are different.  The first quarto of Hamlet was published in 1603 by Nicholas Ling and John Trundell, and printed by Valentine Simmes. It contains about half the amount of text of the second quarto, which was also published by Nicholas Ling in around 1604-5. The first folio, which included all of Shakespeare’s works and was really the first Complete Works of Shakespeare was published in 1623 by Edward Blount and William & Isaac Jaggard. From these three versions, scholars and directors work to reconstitute the ‘original’ Hamlet, but it is almost impossible to know what the original Hamlet was exactly like.

  • ‘Quarto’ and ‘Folio’ are names that actually refer to the size of the paper that the text was printed on: if you imagine a sheet of paper, fold it once in half so you have a rectangle, then fold it again into a square, then open it out and lay it flat, you have eight sections, four on the front and four on the back.  This was called a quarto.  If you just fold the paper once into a rectangle and then unfold it, you have four sections, two on the front and two on the back.  This was called a folio. (Try it with a normal A4 sheet!).

The Hamlet cast

Reviews have been pouring in for Hamlet. Here are some snippets of mentions of some of the cast.

Sally Dexter as Gertrude 'shines' (Daily Mail); 'Michael Sheen’s performance will live in the memory... an audacious achievement' (Evening Standard)

Hayley Carmichael as Horatio is 'fascinating' (Evening Standard)

Vinette Robinson as Ophelia is 'truly touching' (The Guardian); Michael Gould as Polonius gives a 'fantastic performance' (BBC Radio 4)

Benedict Wong as Laertes is 'excellent' (Sunday Times)

'The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern relationship is quirkier than ever as Eileen Walsh joins Adeel Akhtar to exude neurosis and humour.' (British Theatre Guide)

James Clyde, Callum Dixon and Pip Donaghy are part of the 'incredibly strong ensemble' (BBC Radio 4)

Day seats are available for all remaining performances of Hamlet. Tickets from £10, bought in-person on the day of the performance from 9.30am. We hope to see you here!

Youth Council meets Hamlet cast and creatives

Adam Hipkin, a member of the Young Vic Youth Council and Director of Teafilms Ltd., met with some Hamlet actors and creative team members recently to interview them to produce some content for DVDs that we especially make for schools. Here are some of his thoughts…


Hamlet is arguably one of the most recognised of Shakespeare’s plays. It sits amongst Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello and King Lear, as the most popular plays of his canon (the latter of which was performed at the Young Vic in 2009 by the now late Pete Postlethwaite.).

The Director Ian Rickson, who is taking on his first Shakespeare production, is in charge of an exciting cast headed up by Michael Sheen. We went into their rehearsal rooms just up the road from The Young Vic, with a couple of cameras to chat to some of the cast and crew.

The first person we spoke to was Maxine Doyle. Maxine is the Associate Director of Punchdrunk and is the Choreographer on this production. “Hamlet is a super complex play. My process with the work to date has been essentially kind of delving into the psychological investigation of the text”.  Maxine also mentioned to us a part of the play that is being kept top secret by the production team, but I think it’s fair to say that it draws on her work with Punchdrunk.

Next we spoke to Claire Louise Baldwin and Elle While, (Assistant Stage Manager and Assistant Director) about what a modern audience will get from this production. Claire was adamant that “with regards to the actual show and the way it is set, I don’t think it has been done this way before.” Elle on the other hand focused more on the main character: “It’s [about] someone who has lost someone very important in their life. We could all probably think of someone in our own lives going through that right now.”

After a short break while we waited for the actors to come back from lunch we spoke to James Clyde who is playing Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius. We asked him why he thought Hamlet was such a popular play, one which is always being produced somewhere in the world. “It just has this extraordinary verse. If you look at some of Hamlet’s soliloquies every other line has become part of every day speech. It’s the title of a movie or the title of an album. It’s probably the most borrowed from piece of literature in the English language.”

We then caught up with actor Eileen Walsh who is playing the part of Rosencrantz. This character and his friend Guildenstern are both close friends of Hamlet’s, the other key fact being that these roles have always been played by men. Although the casting of Adeel Akhtar (Four Lions) as Guildenstern sticks to this set up, the casting of Eileen as Rosencrantz sees the first women to play the part. “It feels like a piece of new writing. A women hasn’t played it before so it’s just a new take on the whole thing and certain lines that a man says, once they are said by a women, just have a completely different angle.”

The last actor we managed to have a chat with before the afternoon rehearsals started was Pip Donaghy who is playing three different characters: Barnardo, The Player King and the Gravedigger, the latter of which sparks one of the most famous scenes in the play with Hamlet holding the skull of his old Court Jester, Yorick. “In our production they [Barnardo, Player King and Gavedigger]  are going to have the same soul, they are going to be kind of the same character manifesting themselves in different guises.”

As we finished chatting to Pip the rehearsals picked up again and so we had to make room and pack down the kit.