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Theatre: Hamlet

Arts | By Paul Bailey | August Issue

'What was Charleson’s secret, and why does it elude so many young, and not so young, actors who take on the arduous role as a career move?'

If I were mad enough, and depressed enough, I could write a book about the productions of Hamlet I have witnessed over the past sixty years or so. In 1961, in the then Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, I actually appeared in one, as the humblest of humble courtiers. The ‘Moody’ – as old actors used to call the Prince of Denmark – was played by Ian Bannen, an exceptionally pleasant man and a very fine actor in almost everything but Shakespeare.  His inept performance was dismissed with contempt by the majority of the critics; as a result, Ian disappeared to London to receive succour from a priest and help from his psychiatrist. He was replaced by his understudy, whose ineptness was of a different, unintentionally hilarious, order.  This hapless individual had an ill-fitting denture containing four front teeth. One night, as he was advising the First Player to ‘Speak...

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