An ageless, genderless production of Hamlet starring Sir Ian McKellen will open this week without two of its cast amid allegations of bitter disagreements and tensions.
The pandemic-delayed show is notable as it stars McKellen, 82, in a role he last played 50 years ago, which is normally a star vehicle for young actors.
It has now emerged that actors Steven Berkoff, who plays Polonius, and Emmanuella Cole, who plays Polonius’ son, Laertes, will not be part of the cast when the play opens this week.
The Mail on Sunday reported that both actors had dropped out due to clashes that have taken place since rehearsals began. He said the argument left McKellen “energized” and “in tears.”
But the play’s director Sean Mathias told The Guardian Berkoff left due to scheduling issues. “We extended and he had clashes, he couldn’t do the extra time. “
Because the same company will also continue to direct Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, “it seemed wiser to let him go now and bring in someone else. It was a pragmatic decision. “
Nevertheless, Berkoff is the subject of a complaint from Cole which is being dealt with by the Equity union. “I’m not part of this process… I’m not aware of any of this,” Mathias said. “Emmanuella wasn’t there, so her understudy was on. “
Mathias said claims that McKellen was energized or in tears fell off target. “We’re all under pressure… there’s a pandemic and we’re doing Hamlet. We had four liners last week and had to rehearse a new Polonius [Frances Barber]… We are all under pressure. In tears? Absolutely not… a pile of garbage.
He said there were disagreements during rehearsals, but they were exaggerated. “Actors have disagreements all the time in productions and you try to work them out – and sometimes you don’t.
“There are other reasons that none of them are in production at the moment. “
A separate source said Cole had some free time for a workshop at the National Theater.
The play, which is Mathias’ first production as artistic director of Theater Royal Windsor, will have its first sold-out Monday night and press night on Tuesday.
By convention, critics don’t review the previews because they’re not meant to be the finished product, but the Daily Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish, much to the producers’ chagrin, has reviewed it.
Last month he hailed McKellen’s performance as “remarkably consistent and compelling,” but also wrote: “The evening has its flaws and lengths – Steven Berkoff’s starchy and militaristic Polonius might usefully remember to speak in such a way. more hectic. “
Berkoff has had a long career in theater, television, and film, known for his villainous roles in Hollywood films such as Octopussy, Rambo: First Blood, Part II, and Beverly Hills Cop.
In 2019, he may have taken on the ultimate villainous role in the form of Harvey Weinstein. His self-written play was billed as going where no one dared, in the mind of the disgraced movie mogul.
Giving the play two stars, Guardian chief theater critic Arifa Akbar said it was a missed opportunity that did not offer much beyond what was known to the headlines. She continued: “It is when he forgets his remarks and apologizes that one remembers Berkoff’s natural ease and charisma on stage. »
Berkoff confirmed to the Mail on Sunday that a complaint had been filed against him.
Cole is an actor whose television work has included Hollyoaks and theatrical work Faustus: That Damned Woman at Lyric Hammersmith.
According to the Mail on Sunday, Cole felt her views were not being listened to and that she was disrespectful and marginalized.
Representatives for Berkoff and Cole have been approached by the Guardian for comment.