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To play the prince

The Independent 17th March 1989

As ‘Hamlet’ opens at the National, Georgina Brown talks to leading actors about the role

Michael Pennington (1980, directed by John Barton at Stratford):

“It’s quite easy because it’s such an accommodating part which adapts itself to the personality of the actor. I think you feel much freer trying to pin down Hamlet that Lear – Hamlet is a blank sheet – he becomes the actor that is playing him. But that makes it rather difficult to talk about objectively – you bring in whatever your basic personality traits are.

“People don’t seem to get obsessed with their Hamlet as they do with their Macbeth or their Lear. It asks everything of you and you give it – I think it’s a simple play. The narrative is wonderful, it’s full of twists and turns, but so much is written about Hamlet’s psychology and neuroses – it’s important not to be distracted by that. He’s struggling within the emotional force field of Ophelia; he thinks he ought to be a soldier king like his father, but he’s found himself in the role of the avenging angel.

“My Hamlet was a sweet prince. I think a key is his profound sense of courtesy and a deep moral code of a slightly old-fashioned kind. He’s a conservative rebel with rather Victoria values who come back to find the court full of nouveaux riches and he looks back to a better time – he’s almost, but not quite, like a Conservative who looks back nostalgically to the Macmillan days. But as well as those old-fashioned princely virtues there’s a considerable violence and rage.”

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