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  • Miles Hedley


Superstar actor Dame Helen Mirren is to appear in a groundbreaking new production at Greenwich Theatre this month.

The 74-year-old, who won an Oscar for The Queen, will appear as another monarch, Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, in a free online version of Steven Berkoff’s acclaimed drama The Secret Love Life Of Ophelia.

Mirren – a patron of Greenwich Theatre – has waived her fee to appear alongside 39 young, emerging or marginalised actors in the play, which takes the form of letters between Shakespearean lovers Hamlet and Ophelia and offers a new insight into their doomed relationship.

Berkoff wrote the piece as a two-hander but he has agreed to let Greenwich Theatre reimagine it as a series of video messages, which in turn allows artistic director James Haddrell to use a large cast and therefore give work to hard-pressed actors struggling in coronavirus lockdown.

In what now looks like a prophetic announcement, Mirren said when she became the theatre’s patron seven years ago: “At a time when theatres face so many financial challenges, the work Greenwich Theatre do with young and emerging theatre-makers, guaranteeing them a break in this tough industry, is inspiring.”

The new production is being directed by Haddrell, who said: “Theatres are fighting for their survival following the worldwide impact of Covid-19… there are also thousands of young professional actors now graduating from drama school with no potential employment in sight and thousands more who are routinely overlooked for roles like Ophelia and Hamlet because of long-held expectations about how a piece of Shakespeare should be cast.

“We are delighted to be able to kick-start so many careers - and I could not be more delighted that Helen has agreed to support this production.

“This will inevitably increase the audience for the piece and the more people who see these young actors at work the better, from agents and casting directors who can open up routes to employment, to the audiences that they have all worked for years to be able to entertain.”

The Secret Love Life Of Ophelia will premiere on Greenwich Theatre’s YouTube channel on 31 July at 7.30pm and will be available to watch for free until 14 August.

Picture: David Venni


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