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Cush Jumbo, Hamlet, Young Vic, 2020

Cush Jumbo: ‘Most actors dream they can play Hamlet’

The Young Vic’s 2020 season goes on sale at noon today. It includes London’s next big ‘Hamlet’ with ‘The Good Fight’ star

By Andrzej Lukowski
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While it would be vulgar to pick a highlight from Kwame Kwei-Armah’s super-exciting second full-length season at the Young Vic, a big new production of William Shakespeare’s masterpiece ‘Hamlet’ is never not a big deal. The Vic’s revival will be the first major London ‘Hamlet’ since Andrew Scott trod the boards at the Almeida in 2017.

It stars Cush Jumbo (of ‘The Good Wife’ and ‘The Good Fight’, and a recent OBE) in the title role. A year ahead of its opening, with tickets on sale at noon today, she gives us a taste of what to expect.

Have you always wanted to play Hamlet?

‘I think most actors would like to dream they could play it if they’re somebody who enjoys the theatre. I’ve always wanted to play it, even before I’d played any male characters in Shakespeare. But you have to be ready to play him, mentally and technically and emotionally, you really have to be ready. I’ve wanted to play him for a long time but I wasn’t ready.’

Does the fact that some women – Maxine Peake, Michelle Terry, Ruth Negga – have already played him have any bearing on you doing so?

‘No. I guess I just see it in a similar way to when I see anyone else playing Hamlet. Every year there’s a new Hamlet, there’s different actors, different takes, there always have been. People are just more open and excited by the idea of another gender and so more of these productions are happening, which is brilliant, but I’ve never felt constrained by sex on stage, that’s for sure.’

Can you say anything yet about what your take will be like?

‘Greg [Hersov, director] and I like to do Shakespeare now. We don’t like to do Shakespeare in the past, we don’t like chocolate box Shakespeare. We stage it in our time otherwise I don’t think there’s any point in doing it. Otherwise the only thing I know for sure is that I’m playing him as a him, not a her.’

How did you end up doing it at the Young Vic?

‘I’ve known Kwame for a long time, before the Young Vic. And I’ve been a fan of his since he was in “Casualty”! When he moved into the Young Vic he asked me – he asked a lot of actors: “Do you have any ideas? Bring them to the table, let’s talk.” And I said this is something I really want to do, and I really want to do it at the Young Vic. I think it’s the most exciting theatre in Europe at the moment.’

Your co-star on ‘The Good Fight’ Michael Sheen was the last Young Vic Hamlet – has he given you any pointers?

‘I loved that production, it was very spooky. Yes, and I’m actually filming with David Tennant at the moment so I’ve been asking him for tips. It’s so random, I didn’t think I’d be working with two Hamlets in one year, it’s mental.’ 

‘Hamlet’ is at the Young Vic. Jul 6-Aug 22 2020.

For full Young Vic listings for 2019 and 2020, head here.

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