Gyles Brandreth: 'I’ve met a few Claudiuses in politics'

The writer, director and politician explains why he’s starring in a three-person, 90-minute ”Hamlet” with his son and daughter-in-law

Gyles Brandreth in Hamlet
Gyles Brandreth in Hamlet
© Francis Loney

I woke up one day and thought: it’s time to play Hamlet. My wife told me I was being ridiculous and when I reminded her I had done Lady Bracknell recently, she said: 'It’s not the same thing, Lady Bracknell could credibly be your age, and no one was surprised to see you in a frock.' I’ve been a bit of a Hamlet obsessive all my life. The first I saw was Olivier’s film when I was a little boy in the 1950s. My wife said the only part I could do is the ghost, who is also called Hamlet. So I thought at least I could say I played Hamlet and if I can’t play the young Hamlet, then maybe my son can.

The challenge is whether we can do a credible Hamlet in 90 minutes, played by just three people, all from the same family. My son Benet is a barrister, but he is also the rhetoric coach for the RSC and this is a chance to put in practice what he preaches. His wife is a wonderful American actress called Kosha and she will play all the other parts with me. There are no changes of costume, no funny hats, no funny accents, and it is fascinating the way the doubling we do works.

When I lost my seat as an MP, I decided I wanted to do a musical. I thought I would be brilliant as Henry in My Fair Lady but the National announced a production just as I thought of it. Then I thought I would like to do Barnum, then Salad Days and so we decided to do Zipp!, 100 musicals in 90 minutes. We did the complete works of Andrew Lloyd Webber in 60 seconds. Some people thought that was too long. I like to do unlikely things.

Theatre has been part of the tapestry of my life. I started directing at Oxford University and I was artistic director of the Oxford theatre festival. But I didn’t go to drama school because I wanted to be a politician, a writer and many other things. I have written a lot about theatre and I wrote John Gielgud’s biography with his blessing. He was one of the great Hamlets. I’ve met a few Claudiuses in politics and a few Poloniuses too. So theatre has definitely helped my life in politics.

During Hamlet we haven’t been family fallings-out, there have been family comings-together. If you know we’re family it does add something. However it is received, it has been wonderful spending the summer with my family. You try playing Hamlet with your son and daughter-in-law – it is an adventure.

Hamlet runs at the Park Theatre from 29 August to 16 September with previews from now.