“Such stuff as dreams are made on”: John Heffernan as Hamlet

John Heffernan - with a crown - in Edward II. Photo Johan Persson

John Heffernan – with a crown – in Edward II. Photo Johan Persson

I always had a soft spot for John Heffernan. Besides the obvious (talent to knock your socks off, to be anything at any time, anywhere), he is also someone I caught from the start. In thirty years, when he is revered as a theatre great, I will be discreetly smug, having noticed early on (and having missed nothing ever since). When earlier in the week Jamie Lloyd said he wants to direct John Heffernan in Hamlet, my reaction was one of undignified excitement – while recognising the inevitability of it all. Of course, he will play Hamlet. The only question is when, where and with whom.

To that end, I decided to give Jamie Lloyd a helping hand and cast the rest of the production:

Claudius: I always wanted Claudius to be young, considerably younger than Hamlet’s father and only a few years older than the prince. Uncle and nephew grew up together, playmates, confidants and best friends. But close to adulthood, they took separate paths and Claudius started to be resentful in the knowledge he ‘d never be king, even though he is temperamentally suited to it more than the young prince. My first thought was to cast Tom Hiddleston, but in the end I decided he is too young and Michael Fassbender should get the part.

Gertrude: Despite her position, the queen is unwilling to do what is expected of her and surrender all her desires. Tilda Swinton is the rebel in any role. Not to mention unfathomably sexy. (If we can’t have Tilda Swinton, we should get Cate Blanchett).

The Ghost: Paul Rhys – both tender and a little bit frightening – doesn’t look like he could be John Heffernan’s father, but Hamlet was never his father’s son. There is much love between them, but also distrust as they don’t understand each other.

Horatio: the best Hamlets are thoughtful but also spoiled, a tad inconsiderate and generally a pain in the butt. Horatio’s love for Hamlet is the sign we should all give a damn. James McArdle would be perfect for the role. Hot, wise and scottish. So hot in fact that in my version Claudius develops a crush on him. Imagine Hamlet (the poster boy for trust issues) realising his best friend could be seduced by his worst enemy.

Laertes: Jamie Parker is often unknowable without being obnoxious, good qualities for a young man who is different things at different times. Laertes starts unshaped and naive, becomes the avenging angel in the middle of the story and sees the light with his dying breath.

Ophelia: Lydia Wilson – in her punky look from Tis Pity She’s a Whore – would be my Ophelia. A young girl, at the exact moment she is ready to become her own person, is crushed by the actions of others. Her blood is on everyone’s hands.

Polonius: Polonius isn’t a doddery old man. But he is older, he has seen everything, he is distracted and unconvinced by the importance of it all. Alex Jennings looks like he knows what he is doing, even if he doesn’t put any effort into it.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: No one can tell them apart. Why is that? Harry and Luke Treadaway should play them, with the added friction of no one in the story explaining why they look exactly the same.

Osric: Pip Carter is the kind of actor who stands at the back of the room and your eyes are still drawn to him. Osric has his own agenda. In his head, this is his play, a thriller where he seizes all the political power. He is so slick and self-possessed he could be right and everyone else wrong.

Player King / Gravedigger: David Tennant can double up as the Player King and the Gravedigger. Mostly because I want him to try and outdo Mark Hadfield in the Gravedigger’s graveside speech.

P.S. In my imaginary production, three Hamlets are knocking about in other roles (four, if you count Jamie Parker who played Hamlet in the BBC Radio version). This is the only way to cast a production. The new boy should feel the ghosts watching.

7 responses to ““Such stuff as dreams are made on”: John Heffernan as Hamlet

    • I could make it happen. Not. Fantasy casting can be a bit self defeating. It’s never as good as you imagined.

  1. Great post! I agree it’s only a matter of time until John becomes Hamlet and I can’t wait. I have him cast as Horatio in my fantasy cast for Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, but that was purely to tide me over until he gets the chance to play the lead role (and I would happily include him in every production I see!). I also love the Treadaway twins and the idea of a younger Claudius. That’s something I’ve yet to see, so would be quite exciting.

  2. I freakin’ love Lydia Wilson and keep on coming across her in weird and wonderful roles – Tis Pity, but also Blasted and most recently an icily brilliant Kate Middleton in King Charles III. One day she will make a marvelous Gertrude but luckily we should get quite a few roles in between!

    Great casting all told.

    • Thank you, I enjoyed putting the cast together. Lydia Wilson has this very sweet face but she undercuts it with determination bordering on weirdness. Striking combination.

  3. I love it when articles or interviews describe someone as being a ‘newly discovered talent’ and all you can think is that you saw them in something years ago and can’t believe it’s taken everyone else so long to come to the same conclusion.

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