Stage and screen legend Ian McKellen will take on the role of Hamlet for the first time in almost half a century in a new production.
While dates for the show, which will run at Theatre Royal Windsor, have not been set, the piece will begin rehearsals on Monday. According to the company, this is the first major UK production to begin rehearsals since theatres went dark in March.
Speaking about taking on the role, McKellen said: "I feel lucky to be working again, thanks to Bill Kenwright's inspiring optimism and Sean Mathias's invitation to re-examine Hamlet, 50 years on from my first go. So now we will meet again. Don't know when but do know where – Theatre Royal Windsor!"
The age-blind production of Shakespeare's tragedy, directed by Sean Mathias and produced by Bill Kenwright, will also star Ben Allen, Emmanuella Cole, Alis Wyn Davies, Oli Higginson, Nick Howard-Brown, Jonathan Hyde, Asif Khan, Missy Malek and Jenny Seagrove. It is designed by Lee Newby, with costume design by Loren Elstein, lighting design by Jamie Platt with composition and sound design by Adam Cork.
According the production: "The schedule, from 29 June, will be carefully choreographed around social distancing, screening, hygiene, and PPE, with close adherence to the latest government guidelines. There will be a daily review of the protection protocol based on practical considerations learnt in the rehearsal room. If the show can't yet go on, rehearsals at least will."
Following Hamlet, the company will also present Martin Sherman's adaptation of Anton Chekov's The Cherry Orchard, with McKellen as Firs the elderly manservant.
Mathias said: "I have always been a fan of ensemble work so when Bill Kenwright asked me to be his artistic director at Windsor I saw a perfect opportunity to create a company and direct two of the greatest plays ever written.
"The disappointment at being halted by COVID 19 has now been replaced with encouraging signs that we can at least start to work on these beautiful plays with an exceptional company. We walk a tight rope through the forest whilst we await news of when we may actually perform in front of a live audience, but it will be invigorating to leave the house and get into a rehearsal room and be a part of British Theatre returning to the boards."
Further information and running dates are to be confirmed. Kenwright said: "Sean, Ian and myself have been planning this season for some time now, and the truth is I couldn't bear to see it slip away.
"So a lot of more planning, a great deal of determination (and I must admit some of the things I learned prior to the return of football) has got us to the place where all things theatrical start. Nothing is more important than this country's (and indeed the world's) health and safety, so we are not ready to announce an opening night yet – but I'm a great believer in making a start if a start is possible, and in this instance it is. I'm hopeful we will be enjoying a Windsor season in the forthcoming months."