Though exact dates have not been confirmed, Sheen will star in a production helmed by former Royal Court artistic Ian Rickson, making his Shakespearean debut, at the Young Vic in winter 2011. It will mark Sheen’s first Shakespearean role since Henry V for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1997, and his first time on stage since Frost/Nixon, which began at the Donmar Warehouse in 2006 ahead of the West End, Broadway and the big screen.
In addition to Frost/Nixon and Henry V, Sheen’s many stage credits, largely earlier in his career, in the West End, on Broadway and elsewhere, have included: Caligula, Look Back in Anger, Amadeus, Peer Gynt, The Homecoming and The Dresser. Also on stage, next April, he’ll return to his hometown of Port Talbot to direct the local Passion Play for the nascent National Theatre of Wales.
In more recent years, Sheen has become best known internationally for his screen roles playing real-life figures like Tony Blair, football manager Brian Clough and David Frost in the likes of The Queen, The Deal, The Special Relationship, Damned United and Frost/Nixon. His other film credits include White Rabbit, New Moon, Blood Diamond and the Underworld series.
In an interview with today’s Guardian newspaper, the 41-year-old Sheen said: “One of the advantages of coming at it at this end of my career is that I am less concerned with establishing myself as an actor. I've done enough things to realise that unless the whole piece is working, it doesn't matter whether your part is big or small.”
Sheen approached Rickson about directing Hamlet after seeing his award-winning world premiere production of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem. Rickson is best known for directing modern drama, including numerous Harold Pinter plays. His only other classical credit is Chekhov’s The Seagull, which he helmed at the Royal Court and on Broadway.
Rickson told the Guardian that Sheen is “fantastically intelligent, but at the same time very alive emotionally. He has a certain maleness, combined with a poeticism, on stage. And he is suitably fearless in terms of going into the darkness in this play”.
Young Vic artistic director David Lan said that he was not concerned that Sheen’s Hamlet will follow so many other big-name productions. “This is one of the rare times you can say it and it's true: the play is inexhaustible. There are so many different strains of thought in that play. And Michael can act anything. He is an acting animal.”
Rory Kinnear’s National Theatre Hamlet will start performances in the Olivier, directed by NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner, on 7 September 2010 and will be broadcast to cinemas around the world via the NT Live initiative. And John Simm’s offering, directed by Paul Miller, will open the same month at Sheffield Crucible ahead of a possible London transfer.