The play is reportedly set to be the first British theatre production to enter rehearsals after lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Rehearsals are scheduled to begin on Monday, although details about the practicalities of staging are still uncertain. The play is being produced by Bill Kenwright and directed by Sean Mathias in his inaugural season leading the Theatre Royal Windsor.
Strict measures around social distancing, screening, PPE and hygiene will be implemented throughout the rehearsal period.
The role of Hamlet is typically given to young actors. The last time that McKellen played the Danish prince was almost 50 years ago.
McKellen said: “I feel lucky to be working again, thanks to Bill Kenwright’s inspiring optimism and Sean Mathias’s invitation to re-examine Hamlet, 50 years on from my first go. So now we will meet again. Don’t know when, but do know where – Theatre Royal Windsor!”
Writing about the role on his website, he said: “I’m always doubtful when an actor is dubbed ‘The Hamlet of his generation’, particularly as no-one ever wrote it about mine! Mind you, the competition was considerable: there were 10 British Princes of Denmark in 1971.”
“I was 31, the same age as Hamlet by the end of the play. Robert Chetwyn (the director who had got me to whisper Henry V at Ipswich) persuaded me that we shouldn’t tell the Olivier story of a man who couldn’t make up his mind. Our Hamlet was a boy who knows exactly what has to be done but lacks the manly resources to do it.
He continued: “I wore pants tucked into boots and a sweater under a fringed leather jacket. We had a psychedelic, multi-faceted Ghost, reflected in the mirrors of the set. This modern-looking Hamlet didn’t much appeal to the critics…”
The question of Hamlet’s age has been the subject of considerable debate over the years. Academics have questioned whether he is 30, as stated at one point during the play, or much younger, as his behaviour seems to suggest.