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You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > Entertainment > Theatre and Culture > Visual Arts > Shakespeare Under the Stars


Shakespeare Under the Stars

The bard is back at Stafford Castle - and this time it's one of Shakespeare's more epic works, Hamlet. But don't call it a tragedy - BBC Radio Stoke's Matt Lee has more...

One of Britain's leading open air drama productions is back on in Staffordshire! Stafford Festival Shakespeare presents, in what is their 18th year - Hamlet - in the atmospheric grounds of Stafford Castle.

The production by the Gatehouse Theatre runs from June 26th to July 12th, and boasts a number of rising stars including Joseph Millson - who played Agent Carter in the Bond movie Casino Royale, and Kellie Shirley, who you may know better as tomboy mechanic Carly Wicks from Eastenders.

With a running time of 4 hours, it's known as one of the bards most epic works - with themes of treachery, revenge, incest, and moral corruption.

Directors at the Stafford Gatehouse have cut the production down to more palatable two hours and Joseph says it's brought out the action and drama.

Like a Tanrantino revenge thriller

"If you just came on, and went doom and gloom, there would be no play. The minute the ghost of his (Hamlet's) dead dad arrives, it becomes this exciting revenge thriller, that just goes bang-bang-bang! It's like a Tarantino movie or something."

But there's no guns, Pulp Fiction style here - just swords for the big climatic fight between Hamlet and Laertes, a weapon Joseph is no stranger to.

"No matter how good you are at it, and I've done a lot of sword fighting, accidents happen. You have to really trust the other person. It's over 14 or 15 years but I have managed to scar 2 other people" he laughs. "One in the face, one in the ear.

"I'm a little bit short sighted, so it's a bit scary fighting me. But the audience need that at the end - the kind of 'yeah! they're actually doing something' and they're really fighting each other."

Losing the East End lingo

For the other actors,  the challenges come in different forms. Kellie Shirley, who's playing Ophelia, says leaving behind the East End lingo and learning Ye Olde English was tricky.

"When I was working on Eastenders, everything is what it says it is, but when you've got Shakespeare, there's lots of subtext and you've got to get your gear into language", she smiles. "I suppose it's a big hurdle because we don't go round saying 'Hath though my MP3 player, my liege?'"

So where do you get your inspiration from for the role? Many an revered actor has played Hamlet on the silver screen - opposite some great leading ladies as Ophelia. So has Kellie found inspiration in those?

"I did get out Laurence Olivier's version at the library because it was a pound" she chuckles.

"It is bloody brilliant. Mel Gibson's one was on the week before we started rehearsals, and I watched about 10 minutes of it, before I was sick out of my eyes, because it was so rubbish! I had a real strop about it - god, I can't believe he's playing Hamlet and he's so bad!" she laughs. "(I'm) not a fan of Mel Gibson!"

Picturesque setting

The play runs over 17 nights with the picturesque setting of Stafford Castle the backdrop for the open air production, and although that has aesthetic benefits, Kellie knows it doesn't always suit the British summertime.

"I hope it doesn't rain, because I really want to have curly hair, and I don't want it all lank and wet and horrible. From a pure vanity perspective, I don't want the rain, because the audience are covered and we're not. That's not fair!"

For tickets and more information on Stafford Festival Shakespeare's production of Hamlet call the Box Office on 01785 254653 or visit

Matt Lee

last updated: 27/06/2008 at 08:27
created: 24/06/2008

You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > Entertainment > Theatre and Culture > Visual Arts > Shakespeare Under the Stars

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