The director of Ian McKellen’s Hamlet has hit back at claims the Hobbit actor was left ‘in tears’ after two actors allegedly quit the production following an argument.
McKellen, 82, is set to star as the titular Shakespearean character at the Theatre Royal Windsor alongside Steven Berkoff as the king’s pompous adviser Polonius, and rising star Emmanuella Cole as his hot-headed son Laertes.
However, Berkoff and Cole are said to have departed the production just before the scheduled press night on Tuesday. Sources told the Mail On Sunday that the actors were involved in a dispute behind the scenes, allegedly leaving McKellen ‘in tears’ and ‘under strain’.
Hamlet’s director Sean Mathias has since rubbished the reports, explaining that while ‘disagreements’ may have occurred, Cole and Berkoff have left the production for other reasons.
Mathias told The Guardian: ‘We extended and [Berkoff] had clashes, he couldn’t do the extension.’
He continued: ‘Actors have disagreements all the time in productions and you try to work them out – and sometimes you don’t. The fact that neither of them are in the production at the moment is to do with other reasons.’
The producer added that as the production company will also go on to stage Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, ‘it seemed wiser to let him go now and bring someone else in. It was a pragmatic decision’.
Addressing the claims of McKellen’s distress, Mathias said everyone involved is ‘under strain’ as they’re making Hamlet during a pandemic.
He explained that they’ve had to work with four understudies in the past week alone, while also rehearsing with actress Frances Barber who is set to replace Berkoff as Polonius.
According to another insider, Cole has been permitted time off to attend a workshop at the National Theatre.
The new Hamlet production has been described as ‘age-blind’, while McKellen recently told BBC Radio 4’s Front Row that he believes the character is bisexual, explaining: ‘When you come see me you won’t see an old man pretending to be an young man, you’ll see a man pretending to be a prince, pretending to be an intellectual, pretending to be a neurotic, pretending to love his mother, pretending to love girls and boys.
‘You didn’t know that was in Hamlet did you? It’s there, Rosencrantz to Hamlet: “You did love me once”.’
Hamlet is expected to run until September 25.
Metro.co.uk has contacted McKellen, Cole and Berkoff’s reps for comment.
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