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Pennington’s Personality

Evening News, 14th March 1980

Michael Pennington looks the traditional ideal of Hamlet. Fair hair, clean-cut features and a brooding air mark him as the Prince of Denmark par excellance.

He admits: “The expectation of me may well be for something traditional, but I hope everyone is in for a few surprises.”

He will be the Royal Shakespeare’s Company’s new Hamlet at Stratford-upon-Avon in June. Apart from a previous stab at the role while at Cambridge University, it will be his first and first too for director John Barton.

“I realise the part has a symbolic significance for an actor, but it shouldn’t be a make or break role,” he said. “Before the war an actor sometimes had the opportunity to play Hamlet half a dozen times. Few people even play it twice nowadays.

“It is unlikely that I will return to the role later, so I very much want to get it right this time.

“It is one of those parts which moulds itself on the personality of whoever is playing it. There is some truth in saying that anyone who has the technical ability can play it, because it is so adaptable. It is a part that plays you, rather than you playing it.”

Whether he likes it or not, it is something of a watershed in Pennington’s career. He is the classic RSC type. Looking not unlike the younger brother of Alan Howard, he has been waiting in the shadow of the RSC’s resident star.

He is aware of similarities in their career, in that both have worked with the company for some years. Now 36, he joined the RSC as a spear-carrier straight from university, played Fortinbras to David Warner’s Hamlet in 1965, then left for television and West End roles.

He rejoined the company in 1974 and spent a year touring ‘The Hollow Crown’ around the world. He played a dashing and highly praised Mercutio in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and has taken leading roles in new plays such as David Edgar’s ‘Destiny’.

His next part will be in Sean O’Casey’s ‘The Shadow of a Gunman’ at The Other Place, Stratford on April 1st. He plays a poet who unwillingly gets entangled in the IRA troubles of the 1920s.

In real life Pennington has been something of a poet although he disclaims it now.

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