How are rehearsals going?
Rehearsals are going very well indeed. We did our third run-through today and it went very well.
The production is described as "action-packed and topical", with references to "a dysfunctional royal family". Does the approach have any contemporary resonances?
Yes, but when you say there are contemporary resonances people go, "oh God, they've done something to the verse and they've changed it round" and all that kind of stuff. We haven't done any of that; it's Shakespeare's words and we have it in a modern setting. It's more on the lines of the Romeo and Juliet movie that was on a few years ago.
It's quite a young approach, more modern. It's a fast-moving story, that's it.
It's good that you've taken this vibrant approach. It would have been easy not to.
Well, it could have been literate and measured, and you fall asleep, but there's no falling asleep in this one. And it's all Shakespeare.
Claudius isn't known as one of the really A-list Shakespeare's characters, is there something about it which drew you to him?
My Claudius is a pretty fiery character. He is the absolute king. He has responsibilities and he makes no bones about them. The people of Denmark are more important than the niceties of kingship. My Claudius could be described as a Renaissance man in that he has both brains and brawn.
You've played in many classics from Shakespeare through to Arthur Miller and beyond - what's been your favourite part to date?
It's Claudius in Hamlet. At the moment it takes all my concentration. All my energies are towards being a creative artist and being as original as I can in my interpretation. We've never had a black Claudius before, in any production. What's occupying my mind at the moment is Hamlet and God, it's stimulating! Actually being in it and understanding it, it's an excellent piece of theatre. What (director) John Adams has done with it is brought it to the audience. We do not sit back and warm our backsides against the fireplace, it comes at you like a panther.
You'll always be known to many people as Geoffrey, are there some days when you wake up and wish you'd never done it?
Oh good Lord, no! I don't wake up thinking of Geoffrey... I'm always in what I'm doing at present, so I'll be walking down the road and thinking, well, I have to get my shirt from the dry cleaners, and be back at rehearsals by 1:30, then people go "Yo, wassup G? How you doin'?" and I think oh, yes, that's me! But from an audience of say 500 to over 150 million per week even now, it's just amazing. What it's done for me is immeasurable. Interestingly enough, older people see me as Walter in Empire Road, the first black series by a black writer and black actors and was incredibly successful.
You also did Cry Freedom, that must have been an experience.
Yes, it was. All my scenes were with Kevin Klein, who is an extraordinary actor and he was doing Hamlet at the time. I'd just finished playing Othello in London so we had a lot to talk about. But actually being in the company of Lord Attenborough, he was Sir Richard then.
Have you been to Basingstoke before?
I have some relatives here, I've been visiting. I have to say, and this is no flannel or PR, I've had a marvellous time. This is a very friendly place. The staff in the theatre all believe in it, and they're so accommodating and welcoming.
You're a keen cricketer. Have you been glued to the television recently?
Are you kidding? We're in rehearsals, they won't let us go and watch the cricket. Every now and then we get bulletins, 248 for four or something. We have a television in the green room and the ASM will run down and get the score. You tell them when there's a break in the scene.
We've got someone here rigged up to a heart monitor because of the tension. It takes so long to play out...
Exactly. It's not 90 minutes, it's over months but it's still gripping. True theatre!