Edinburgh Festival: Lord of the Rings star Ian McKellen as Hamlet will launch new venue at this year's Fringe

Playing X-Men's Magneto ​and ​Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings​ may have made Sir Ian McKellen a household name but this August he will return to his Shakespearean roots playing Hamlet at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

By Liam Rudden
Wednesday, 30th March 2022, 6:41 am

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The News can exclusively reveal that this August, the 82-year-old will star ​in the world premiere of Hamlet, a new performance concept adapted from Shakespeare’s play​, which will also introduce audiences to a brand new Edinburgh venue, ​the 400-seat Ashton Hall, Saint Stephen​'​s Theatre​ - formerly the old St Stephen's Church on Stephen Street​.

A​ collaboration with acclaimed producer, director and choreographer ​Peter Schaufuss, Hamlet will find McKellen joined on stage by dancer Johan Christensen ​who will dance the role of Hamlet as ​McKellen​ performs his famous speeches and soliloquies, ​in the 75-minute production.

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Ian McKellen as Hamlet at the Theatre Royal Windsor, in 2021

In his long and distinguished career, McKellen has played Hamlet twice before, in productions 50 years apart. In 1971 he toured the role as well as appearing in the West End and then, last year at the age of 81, he revisited it in a sell-out age, colour, and gender-blind production at the Theatre Royal, Windsor.

​Now McKellen is to return to role, performing alongside the Edinburgh Festival Ballet Company​ in what is already being tipped to be the hottest ticket in Edinburgh this August. Hamlet, which will run from ​August​ 2-28, with tickets priced at £30 on sale here.

No stranger to the Capital, McKellen made his Scottish début ​at the Edinburgh Festival in 1969, playing in productions of ​Richard​ II and Edward ​II.​ Most recently, he ​brought his 80th birthday solo show in the Assembly Hall, where he​ was first introduced to city theatre-goers.

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Dancer Johan Christensen and Ian McKellen, who will share the role of Hamlet at the Edinburgh Fringe, with director Peter Schaufuss

​Widely regarded as a national treasure these days, ​McKellen says​,​ “At a crucial moment in Hamlet, Shakespeare describes in detail a dance, performed by the actors touring through Elsinore.

​"​Hamlet says​,​ ‘What a piece of work is a man... how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action.’ The same could be said of Peter Schaufuss and his company of wonderful dancers. It’s inspiring to watch them and work with them.”

​A choreographer, teacher​ and ​director​,​ Olivier Award-winning ​Peter Schaufuss​ was ​widely recogni​sed as one of the most talented male dancers of his generation having had ballets created for him by the likes of Sir Kenneth McMillan, George Balanchine, Roland Petit and Sir Frederick Ashton, after whom the new venue is named.

Sharing the title role with McKellen, Danish ballet dancer Christensen joined the prestigious Royal Danish Ballet School as a child prodigy he became a member of Peter Schaufuss Ballet at 16 in 2008​.

Ian McKellen as King Richard II and Lucy Fleming as Queen Isabel in Richard II on 25 August 1969 in the Assembly Hall, Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh Festival

In 2012 he danced the title role in Shakespeare’s Hamlet to Sir John Gielgud’s famous soliloquies and Tybalt in Sir Frederick Ashton’s legendary production of Romeo and Juliet with Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in performances in London.

Three years ago his career ​came ​full circle as he returned ​to ​working with Schaufuss as the founding ​principal of Edinburgh Festival Ballet School. Also performing in the production as Horatio will be Peter’s son Luke. The principals will be joined on stage by artists from the Edinburgh Festival Ballet,​ founded by Schaufuss in 2019​.

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Edinburgh's newest venue, the Ashton Hall at St Stephen's Theatre

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Hamlet returns to the Edinburgh Fringe