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.

More Hamlet tickets on sale

As you may know, we’ve just put more Hamlet tickets on sale! Also exciting is that we have now confirmed the seating plan, so if you have booked and asked for tickets to be sent to you – keep your eyes on your post box as they will be arriving very soon!

In case you were wondering why it’s taken us so long to send Hamlet tickets – it’s because our Main House is completely transformed for every show. This is always really exciting, but it means that it usually takes us a bit longer to design and confirm the set, the stage and the seating… BUT it means that you will always have a brand new experience stepping into the Young Vic!

Full Hamlet cast announced!

Fresh off the press!

Michael Sheen, one of the finest actors of his generation, plays Hamlet under the direction of one of Britain’s leading directors Ian Rickson (Jerusalem), who makes his Shakespearean debut with this electrifying new production.

The world-class creative team includes designer Jeremy Herbert (The Glass Menagerie; Young Vic), costume designer Nicky Gillibrand (Government Inspector; Young Vic, Anna Nicole; ROH) and Punchdrunk associate director Maxine Doyle (Masque of the Red Death; BAC) who will choreograph.

They are joined by a stellar cast drawn from the worlds of film, musicals, theatre and TV including:

  • Guildenstern/Francisco: Adeel Akhtar (Faisal in Chris Morris’s Four Lions)
  • Horatio: Told by an Idiot co-founder Hayley Carmichael (Sweet Nothings; Young Vic)
  • Claudius:  James Clyde (Peter Hall’s Twelfth Night; NT, Neil Bartlett’s Romeo & Juliet; RSC)
  • Gertrude: Sally Dexter (Mother Superior in Sister Act, Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot; West End) 
  • Marcellus: Callum Dixon (Government Inspector; Young Vic)
  • Barnardo: Pip Donaghy (The Deep Blue Sea/ Rattigan’s Nijinsky; Chichester Festival Theatre)
  • Polonius: Michael Gould (Earthquakes in London, Our Class, Women of Troy; All NT)
  • OpheliaVinette Robinson (Tender Napalm; Southwark Playhouse, Welcome to Thebes; NT, Sugar Mummies; Royal Court and BBC’s Sherlock)
  • Rosencrantz: Eileen Walsh (Disco Pigs; Bush Theatre and film The Magdalene Sisters)
  • Laertes: Benedict Wong (whose films include Ridley Scott’s upcoming Prometheus, Duncan Jones’ Moon and Danny Boyle’s Sunshine)

More tickets on sale soon… sign up to our e-list to be the first to find out the details!

Michael Sheen is Hamlet

Yesterday, we were with Michael Sheen in Toronto doing a photoshoot for Hamlet (starts 28 October)! Here’s a sneak peek of some of the shots. A huge thanks to our great photographer Steve Carty. Check out more of his works here.

Michael Sheen, Hamlet (c)Steve Carty

Michael Sheen, Hamlet (c)Steve Carty

Tidying Michael's beard! (c)Steve Carty





2011-2012 Season Now on Sale to Friends!

It’s a truly unmissable year….

  • The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt in Government Inspector
  • Return of the sell-out hits The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Evening Standard Award-winning musical Street Scene
  • Hamlet starring Michael Sheen
  • Patrick Stewart as William Shakespeare in Bingo

Friends: now / Priority Pass: 8 Feb / All: 15 Feb

Exciting… check it out now!