The Daily Telegraph
To see, or not to see
Rada graduates appear alongside Golden Globe winner in limited run of charity production
It is one of the stage events of the year – Tom Hiddleston starring in Sir Kenneth Branagh’s production of Hamlet. However, only a select group of theatre-goers will see the performance, as tickets in the tiny Rada theatre were sold via a lottery weeks ago
PLENTY of established actors would give their right arm to appear alongside Tom Hiddleston in the hottest ticket of the year, Hamlet showing in the West End.
Last night, the opportunity fell to two drama school graduates. Eleanor de Rohan and Irfan Shamji were plucked from their final year at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) by Sir Kenneth Branagh, the director.
The sell-out production opened at Rada’s Jerwood Vanbrugh theatre, a space with just 160 seats, for the first night of its three-week run.
De Rohan plays Guildastern, a female version of Hamlet’s childhood friend, Guildenstern, while Shamji plays Laertes. They also appear in other, smaller roles as the play has a cast of just 10 actors. “They only graduated in July. This is their first job,” said Edward Kemp, Rada director. “Ken auditioned all of our third year, and from there he selected the ones he would like to work with.”
Shamji, a Londoner, won a prize for his fight skills during his time at the drama school – handy for his fencing scenes with Hiddleston. De Rohan was a member of the National Youth Theatre before winning a place to study a BA in acting. Hiddleston and Branagh are both Rada graduates, and agreed to stage the short run as a fundraiser for the institution.
The modern-dress production is set in Denmark and favours the “Hamlet in a hoodie” aesthetic last seen when Benedict Cumberbatch played the role two years ago at the Barbican.
Cumberbatch’s performance in 2015 was disrupted by fans filming him on mobile phones, forcing him to make a public appeal for them to stop the “mortifying” behaviour.
Kemp said he did not expect to have the same problem with Hiddleston, not least because the space is so intimate. Tickets were distributed via a lottery over the space of five days.
“There are only 160 people. Nobody is further than 12 feet from the stage, and if you’re in the front row you’re right up in the action,” he said.
“What’s exciting about the lottery, one of the things that Tom is very excited about, is that sometimes with these hotly anticipated productions you get a particular kind of person who can get on the internet when tickets are released.
“But this had a five-day window and the ticketholders were picked at random. Almost more than any other show in London, we have no idea who will be turning up. There will obviously be hardcore Hiddleston fans but also an awful lot of people there to see Hamlet.”
Ticketholders must pick up their tickets in the hour before the performance begins, one of several moves designed to thwart touts.
Kemp described it as a “thrilling” production and “a play about grief ”. He said: “It’s modern dress. There are some hoodies. There are suits.”
Money raised from the performance will fund several projects, including a library, theatre and accommodation for first year students.
While the majority of Rada students receive financial support, there have been complaints that working-class talent is being priced out of the acting profession. Hiddleston’s name is frequently included in lists of public school actors dominating the British acting scene.