Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Rachel Waring: Hamlet

By | Published on Thursday 12 February 2015

This month a new production of Hamlet opens at The Cockpit. One could argue that everyone puts their own interpretation on such classics but it sounds as though English Repertory Theatre’s version, directed by Gavin Davis, goes further than most, taking a comical approach to the well known tragedy, and also casting a woman in the primary role.

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Like anyone with any sense, I am an ardent fan of the tragicomic, so was naturally interested in finding out more about the show. I sent some questions over to Rachel Waring, the young actor taking on the part of Hamlet.

CM: This is a quite different, comedic version of ‘Hamlet’, isn’t it? Can you tell us a bit about this production of the play, the setting, and how it compares to more traditional versions?
RW: Yes, it is a light hearted version – English Repertory Theatre like to play with juxtaposition. By doing this we try to find truthful responses to these texts. Shakespeare can often be used with so much reverence that it kills the play itself – our method instead gives ‘Hamlet’ a whole new life.

CM: How did you get involved with this production? Can you tell us a bit about those you are working with on it?
RW: I met Gavin (director) and David (assistant director) working with the Oxford Shakespeare Company performing ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’. Gavin was playing Falstaff, I was playing the young Anne Page and David was playing Fenton. I had never met anyone quite like Gavin or David – we had the best summer. When Gavin asked me the next year to come and try to play the comedy Twelfth Night as a tragedy, I jumped at it. This is where Nina (Ophelia) came to the company. Almost all of the company are people that we have met or worked with before. Gavin has amassed a group of incredibly talented people. I am very lucky to be able to work with them.

CM: You’re not the first woman to play Hamlet, obviously (Sarah Bernhardt, Frances de la Tour and most recently Maxine Peake spring to mind) but it’s still a bit of a departure. Are you playing it as though Hamlet is a woman, or playing it as a male character? Or neither…? Is gender actually important to this role, at all, do you think?
RW: I came to the part fairly gender-neutral, to be honest. Gavin said he didn’t want a boy or a girl – he just wanted me… which may sound weird, but come to the show and you will realise what I mean. I therefore didn’t do a male movement study (as I usually would have). In fact, Gavin actively asked me not to. But we found the character of our Hamlet together. Emotionally, however, this has been quite a challenge when it comes to gaining the male mindset behind some of Hamlet’s choices and words, We are, after all, keeping him a Lord as opposed to a Lady! This, at times, has made me question every man I have ever met!

CM: The press release mentions that at 26 you are the youngest to play the role. Do you think that works for you, or against you?
RW: I think it works very well for Hamlet. I find it baffling that Hamlet is so often played by a 30 year old plus man. He is a young boy going through a whole heap of problems, never mind the murder of his father! Adolescence is still very fresh in my mind. I don’t think I could, or would, be able to play this part quite the same if I were 5 or 10 years older.

CM: The role of Hamlet has always been ‘that role’, the one that all (male) actors aspire to take on at some point in their career. Did YOU always want to play it? Do you think it’s worth all that hype?
RW: It’s certainly worth every single second of the hype! However, I didn’t think so when I first started the project. I approached it thinking he was just like any other person who has lines to learn and moves through a experience. But then I realised he was me! I’m sure every actor playing Hamlet goes through the same experience. The part is written so extraordinarily well that you can’t help but get lost in it.

CM: Are there any other iconic Shakespearean roles you’d like to get your teeth into?
RW: I think an obvious answer would be Puck. There’s so much scope for a gender-neutral but highly sexualised creature in that role. But apart from that, Jaques… Quite seriously, everyone laughs when I say that. My friend Lyndsey Murell once played Jaques as a drunk, depressive Rastafarian wise man. She hated every second of it, but it was one of the most beautiful performances I’ve ever seen. I’d like to follow in her footsteps, or pay her to do it at every one of my birthdays.

CM: Will this production continue after the London run? Are there plans for future tours?
RW: There are plans. I’m not allowed to say anything; however there are plans. Gavin is aiming for world domination. I’m just trying to get on stage next week!

CM: What’s next for you?
RW: Mustardseed! I played it when I was 11 at the Ludlow Shakespeare Festival – best show of my life, my character had about four lines. I have an agreement with Gavin that I want a small role next time. However, he has threatened to just make a whole show about Mustardseed, that little fairy in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ that has five lines and everyone forgets about.

Also, WORLD DOMINATION! Aim high, right?

English Repertory Theatre’s production of ‘Hamlet’ is on at The Cockpit from 17 Feb until 15 March. See this page here for more info and tickets.

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