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.