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Helen Mirren to Appear in Greenwich Theatre’s Online Premiere

Helen Mirren - Credit David Venni
Helen Mirren – Credit David Venni

Oscar winner and Greenwich Theatre patron Dame Helen Mirren is set to support the venue’s debut online production – a new version of Steven Berkoff’s The Secret Love Life of Ophelia – with a special guest appearance.

Written as an exchange of letters between the young Shakespearean lovers Hamlet and Ophelia, Berkoff’s play parallels the events of Shakespeare’s play but gives a new insight into the way that their relationship develops, from first meeting to tragic end. The politics and intrigue of his father’s murder, his mother’s disloyalty in marrying his uncle and all of the dramatic events that follow are referenced, but as a backdrop to the secret relationship unfolding between the two young lovers.

Berkoff also grants Ophelia the kind of voice absent from Shakespeare’s play. Berkoff’s Ophelia is anything but a passive onlooker to Hamlet’s story. Rather, she drives much of the action, her confidence and determination serving as the encouragement that Hamlet needs to challenge his uncle and the social strictures of the court.

Originally conceived as a piece for two actors on stage, Greenwich Theatre has secured Berkoff’s endorsement to reimagine the letters as video messages for this contemporary production, and director James Haddrell has brought together a cast of 39 young, emerging or marginalised actors to each perform one of the letters. Concluding the piece, it has now been confirmed that Helen Mirren will make a special appearance as Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.

A member of the National Youth Theatre in the 1960s, Mirren was invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1965 after her performance as Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra. This online production has been designed to offer that same early exposure to a new company of performers.

Greenwich Theatre’s artistic director James Haddrell said, “It is well known that theatres are fighting for their survival following the worldwide impact of COVID-19. Established actors, creative teams, stage management, crew and venue staff are all waiting to discover when their next job will come along. However, there are also thousands of young professional actors who are 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 give access to these major roles to performers who may not have had the opportunity to play a leading Shakespearean character. I could not be more delighted that our patron, Helen Mirren, 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 is the latest event in Greenwich Connects, Greenwich Theatre’s ambitious online programme launched within days of the COVID-19 UK theatre closures. Supported by Arts Council England and the Royal Borough of Greenwich, the programme has included streamed shows from the theatre archives, weekly industry advice sessions, writer and actor challenges and the online version of the Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival.

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

https://greenwichtheatre.org.uk/

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