Gyles Brandreth keeps Hamlet in the family with son Benet and daughter-in-law Kosha Engler
PUBLISHED: 15:00 16 August 2017 | UPDATED: 18:24 18 August 2017
Three members of the same family talk about their revamped version of Hamlet coming to the Park Theatre
Gyles Brandreth, his son Benet and his wife Kosha Engler sit at a table in the rehearsal room of the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, discussing Hamlet, the work they’re putting on stage later this month.
They’re also talking about how it’s the most famous play in the world, which begs the question: why do it again?
“Benet and his father are alike in their love of Shakespeare,” says Kosha. Gyles enthusiastically quips in: “We realised that the reason this is the most famous play in the world is that everything is in it. Everything! All human life, so it appeals to everybody. The grief, the mental anguish, the family relationships - it’s 2017, and it’s still all there.”
But the reasons for staging Hamlet again go beyond that. Gyles, Benet and Kosha are adamant their production is different, and that they’ve managed to “refresh” it with three twists. First of all, they got rid of the political storyline, which allowed them to narrow it down to 90 minutes.
Gyles also says the smaller theatre will give audiences used to seeing Shakespeare on the bigger stages at the Barbican or the Old Vic a different experience. (After his one-man show at the Park Theatre in the spring, Ian McKellen extolled the value of intimate theatres that are able to offer a “conversational Shakespeare”.)
And then, of course, the trio is a family, splitting ten characters between the three of them: Kosha plays five – the women and the best friends – Gyles plays four – the fathers and the elder figures – and Benet plays Hamlet.
This set up presented challenges and rewards in equal measure. The decision to do Hamlet as a family is a never-ending challenge, but none of the actors give any sign of regretting it: not only do they relish the awkwardness that inevitably arises during rehearsals, but they think it will give their Hamlet rendition a special edge.
“The subject of the play means it’s always going to be a bit difficult, particularly in some of the relationships that are portrayed,” says Benet. “I mean, it is awkward to have your father and your wife about to kiss, but that awkwardness is also so juicy that we think it’ll immediately come across without needing to be underscored.”
To prove the point, Gyles explains: “Hamlet is very angry with his mother for marrying Claudius, and everyone knows that. But when the real dad of the actor is canoodling with his actual wife – well, it really is awkward!” Given that even talking about this feels is slightly uncomfortable, it’s likely they’re onto something.
Kosha says the family aspect also made the grief at the heart of the play all the more real. “Watching Benet and Gyles as the ghost of King Hamlet and Hamlet is incredibly moving, because you know they’re father and son.” Benet agrees: “In the instance of my father’s death, I don’t have to reach very deep to find the sadness – I just have to think of, well, reality.”
All three heap praise on the directors, Simon Evans & David Aula, who they say have been “marvellous” at handling their individual strengths and weaknesses – as well as the difficulties of an unconventional production.
“I play five characters so I was very apprehensive at the beginning, wondering how we’d handle the changes,” says Kosha. “But this is the genius of Simon [Evans]: he’s done this fantastic thing where the end of every scene is set up as the beginning of the next. This happens quite seamlessly and naturally, so the transition is really very clear.”
Benet may only play one character, but it carries immense historical weight. How did he cope with being Hamlet?
“The great joy of it is being part of the tradition, but that’s also tremendous pressure,” he says. “There’s always going to be someone in the audience mouthing the lines with you!”
“But,” he adds, “it’s wonderful to share something with my father as an adult and to do something with my wife that’s professional.” They all agree that the experience is proving even more enjoyable than predicted. But will it not be a relief to put the on stage awkwardness behind them? Benet looks at his wife and father and seems to speak for all when he says, “Not at all. I’ll be very sad when the last ‘the rest is silence’ is spoken.”
Hamlet is on at the Park Theatre, August 22 - September 26. Tickets £10 - £18.