TO be or not to be Hamlet? That is a question which must flit through every actor’s mind at some stage in his career.
The greatest and most troubled of Shakespeare’s characters has been portrayed by actors as diverse as Laurence Olivier and David Tennant, with many thousands in between, but an up-and-coming actor from Shiplake is undaunted by the prospect.
Oliver Dench, aged 20, is preparing to play the Prince of Denmark in a one-man version for this year’s Henley Fringe festival at Henley Town Hall chambers. But the former Henley College student has a long Thespian heritage to draw from his great aunt is Dame Judi Dench, and his grandfather Jeffrey, Dame Judi’s brother, was also an actor of great note.
He said: “Of course I was inspired by my great aunt, but her brother, my grandfather, was my real influence. He acted for the Royal Shakespeare Company and I remember being inspired by him.”
Since finishing his performing arts course at The Henley College two years ago, Oliver has played Paris in Romeo and Juliet for Reading Between the Lines, a Reading-based rep company. He also played Mr Darcy for the HAODS’ production of Pride and Prejudice, The Musical last year. In between times he has been working at Henley Theatrical Services where he and two colleagues lighting technician Tom Smith and sound engineer Joe Morris decided to set up their own theatre company, Revolve Theatre. Hamlet will be their first production.
He said: “Revolve was born from us talking about things we like about theatre and things we don’t like. We chose Hamlet because Shakespeare is a great passion of mine and we believe in the beauty of language. Also, Hamlet is the one play of his that lends itself to a one-man production.”
Oliver has adapted the original script into a 70-minute play featuring mainly monologues. He will wear modern dress, swapping hats to indicate different characters. Hamlet is bare-headed, but Ophelia will wear a flower coronet, Polonius spectacles and a walking stick and Horatio a trilby.
He said: “I believe it’s through Hamlet that Shakespeare achieved his fantastic poetry. It was after his son Hamlet died in the plague that he created this character he obviously loved. He used him as a vessel to spout his ideas about life and death. That’s why it can be considered so exciting. It was an excuse for him to pontificate.”
After playing at the fringe festival the company hopes to take the play to a number of schools as a theatre workshop project to inspire more children to engage with Shakespeare.
For tickets visit www.henleyfringe.org