‘And one man in his time plays many parts’: Shakespearean Parts with my Ideal Cast

Rehearsals for Hamlet are underway!

The Barbican has just released their exclusive photos from the rehearsal rooms, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciarán Hinds and other members of the cast. Until looking at the photos, I hadn’t quite realised just how big the cast was!

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EDIT: Also, while looking up the pictures for a reference…THEY RELEASED MORE TICKETS AND I GOT 2. OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG!

Anyway, last month I mentioned how when I think of certain Shakespeare characters, I imagine specific actors. So in anticipation of Benedict Cumberbatch taking on Hamlet, I thought I’d share who some of my current leading men are. And yes, that means there is a current Hamlet. Who may or may not be usurped by Benedict Cumberbatch…


Hamlet = David Tennant


Let me be honest: Hamlet is not my favourite Shakespeare play. It’s probably not even in my Top 10. And I’ve only read it like once. And yes, I did study MA Shakespeare without once mentioning Hamlet in a single essay!

I don’t know why I don’t like Hamlet, but I liked a lot about this RSC production: updated with a modern tone, featuring Tennant and Patrick Stewart, and they actually filmed it for posterity. Plus Tennant’s Hamlet was the first one I found believable in the role: hesitant and intense in equal measure. Though to be honest, I think sympathising with/liking the character had a lot to do with the camera angles used. But Tennant was amazing and, for that reason, he is my Hamlet.


Macbeth = James McAvoy


McAvoy has been a leading component in Trafalgar Transformed, a company putting on political, hard hitting shows, helmed by Jamie Lloyd and ATG. Currently in its second season, James McAvoy has featured in a number of productions: most recently he starred in The Ruling Class, and was actually in the first show performed, playing a commanding Macbeth. Unfortunately, I could not get tickets for that production, but I hear it was amazing. Plus, to be honest, I’ve already seen James McAvoy do Macbeth before, and that is the version which will stick with me and is why he is my Macbeth.

A few years ago, actually scratch that as I just checked the date and it was 10 years ago…fuck…anyway, a while ago, James McAvoy played Macbeth in an adaptation for the BBC’s ShakespeaRe-Told. Which, if you haven’t seen, I implore you to. In this series, a number of Shakespeare’s plays were ‘Re-Told’ for a modern audience, transposing it into a modern setting and with a host of familiar faces. Macbeth was set in a restaurant, which actually worked suprisingly well: McAvoy plays the ‘bloody butcher’ Macbeth, a sous chef who aspires to own the restaurant one day. He was so thrilling in the role, plus we even get a young Richard Armitage as Macduff!


Iago = Kenneth Brannagh


Kenneth Branagh has basically directed, adapted or starred in every Shakespeare play.

Literally, all I remember from my undergrad first year Shakespeare Module was watching a different film version of a play each week, and the credits saying: Directed by Kenneth Branagh, or Starring Kenneth Branagh. I’m convinced he’s like secretly the reincarnation of Shakespeare. Or of Shakespeare’s biggest fan.

But out of all the characters Branagh’s played (and there are a LOT to consider), Iago is by far my favourite. His rapport with Lawrence Fishbourn’s amazing Othello, his complete betrayal of Roderigo, the homoerotic edge to his character, all make for an intriguing Iago. And again, the asides to the camera just make the audience warm to him/believe in him even more.


Coriolanus = Tom Hiddleston

Tom Hiddleston, foreground, as Coriolanus, at the Donmar, London, December 2013.

From Iago to someone inspired by this antihero archetype: Tom Hiddleston, who’s credited his characterisation of Loki to Iago and similar characters.

Loki is very Shakespearian. He has a lean and hungry look, like Cassius. He’s a plotter, like Iago. He’s ambitious like Macbeth. www.nydailynews.com

I would love to see Tom Hiddleston’s take on Iago some day, though that might be a bit type casting. But for the time being he’s my Coriolanus. It’s a part and play which I imagine quite a few people weren’t familiar with before the Donmar Warehouse’s production last year, which brought the story to a new generation. Hiddleston’s Coriolanus was mesmerising: a born warrior, but not a born leader, and watching his struggle with this was very compelling. I’m sure HIddleston will usurp another character in the next few years, but unfortunately it is not Henry V, though I did like his take on it.


Henry V = Jamie Parker

Picture by Gareth Jones<br />  16th April 12<br />  Henry V at the Playhouse Liverpool with actors Jamie Parker Nigel Cooke Matthew Flynn and Brendan O'Hea

This was the first role I’d seen Jamie Parker in, aka the first time I fell in love with him! My friend and me are a tad obssessed with him, me ever since seeing him live in Assassins. And we’ve just seen him in High Society, which was amazing!

Anyway, for me, Jamie Parker’s Henry V was better than Tom Hiddleston’s take. Both have their respective pros/cons, but it was Parker’s back and forth with Roger Allam’s Falstaff which had me hooked. Their surrogate father/son dynamic was so spot on, heartbreaking at points, and more so than Hiddleston/Simon Russell Beale. Plus Parker’s ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers’ speech is amazing.


Other notable mentions:

Romeo and Juliet = Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes

Richard II = Ben Whishaw

Falstaff = Roger Alam

Othello = Laurence Fishburne

Ariel = Colin Morgan


And positions to be filled:

King Lear = tbd

Of noteworthy performances, I’ve seen McKellen’s Lear and was impressed but not wholly convinced, and Simon Russell Beale’s was somewhat lackluster, all one note to be honest.

Richard III= tbd

Seen both Mark Rylance and Martin Freeman take on this role, and while the former played it too much for laughs, the latter brought a darkness beyond that of the text. Although that’s more to do with the interpretation of the play and adding Richard killing his wife onstage, than Freeman’s portrayal.


5 thoughts on “‘And one man in his time plays many parts’: Shakespearean Parts with my Ideal Cast

  1. Jamie Parker is as well my choice for Henry V as is Roger Allam for Falstaff and Ben Whishaw for Richard II. My Hamlet so far is John Simm, Ophelia: Vinette Robinson, Claudius: Patrick Stewart, Macbeth: Joseph Millson, Iago: Dominic West, Coriolanus: Ralph Fiennes, not do sure on other parts yet. As for the Comedies: Eve Best and Charles Edwards are my perfect Beatrice and Benedick


    1. Yeah he is amazing as Henry V- such a great dynamic on stage.
      I never saw Simm as Hamlet, but heard it was very good; which version was Vinette in? Agree totally with Patrick Stewart, but haven’t seen the other casting, though I imagine Dominic West would make a great Iago. And good choice on Comedies, although Eve Best in anything gets my vote 🙂


      1. Vinette was in the Young Vic Hamlet with Michael Sheen.
        Dominic West spoke with Northern accent – it was glorious. Lilli James as Desdemona and Gwilym Lee as Cassio were great too.


      2. Ahh, that’s amazing casting!
        Oooh, sounds great! Haven’t seen Othello live in a few years, hence why mine are from the movie version, but that sounds like a strong cast.


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