The Show Must Go on; first major post-COVID theatre production begins rehearsals, with Sir Ian McKellen playing Hamlet

Ian McKellan
  • First major new UK live theatre production to start rehearsals following COVID-19 lockdown
  • Cast includes: Ben Allen, Emmanuella Cole, Alis Wyn Davies, Oli Higginson, Nick Howard-Brown, Jonathan Hyde, Asif Khan, Missy Malek, Ian McKellen, Jenny Seagrove
  • Directed by Sean Mathias

A new production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, directed by Sean Mathias with Ian McKellen in an age-blind interpretation of the young Prince, will go into rehearsals on Monday 29 June.

Produced by Bill Kenwright, Hamlet will herald Sean Mathias’ inaugural season at Theatre Royal Windsor and will be followed by Martin Sherman’s adaptation of Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, with McKellen as Firs the elderly manservant.

This is the first major UK production to begin rehearsals since theatres went dark in March in accordance with government guidelines to stem the spread of COVID-19.

However, rehearsals are now able to start with strict measures in place to ensure the safety of the company. The schedule, from 29 June, will be carefully choreographed around social distancing, screening, hygiene, and PPE, with close adherence to the latest government guidelines. There will be a daily review of the protection protocol based on practical considerations learnt in the rehearsal room. If the show can’t yet go on, rehearsals at least will.

Sean Mathias said: “I have always been a fan of ensemble work so when Bill Kenwright asked me to be his Artistic Director at Windsor I saw a perfect opportunity to create a company and direct two of the greatest plays ever written. The disappointment at being halted by COVID 19 has now been replaced with encouraging signs that we can at least start to work on these beautiful plays with an exceptional company. We walk a tight rope through the forest whilst we await news of when we may actually perform in front of a live audience, but it will be invigorating to leave the house and get into a rehearsal room and be a part of British Theatre returning to the boards.”

Ian McKellen said: “I feel lucky to be working again, thanks to Bill Kenwright’s inspiring optimism and Sean Mathias’s invitation to re-examine Hamlet, 50 years on from my first go. So now we will meet again. Don’t know when but do know where – Theatre Royal Windsor!”

Bill Kenwright said: “Sean, Ian and myself have been planning this season for some time now, and the truth is I couldn’t bear to see it slip away. So a lot of more planning, a great deal of determination (and I must admit some of the things I learned prior to the return of football) has got us to the place where all things theatrical start. Nothing is more important than this country’s (and indeed the world’s) health and safety, so we are not ready to announce an opening night yet – but I’m a great believer in making a start if a start is possible, and in this instance it is. I’m hopeful we will be enjoying a Windsor season in the forthcoming months.”

Sean Mathias is a leading British theatre and film director and writer with numerous awards to his name including the Evening Standard Theatre Award, WhatsOnStage Award, the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award, a Fringe First at Edinburgh and the Prix de la Jeunesse at Cannes. In 2009/10 Sean was the Artistic Director of Theatre Royal Haymarket where his legendary production of Waiting for Godot starring Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart and Simon Callow, played two seasons, as well as touring the UK and internationally. In 2013 Sean directed and co-produced Beckett’s Godot and Pinter’s No Man’s Land in rep on Broadway. His production of No Man’s Land, starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, was the highest grossing play in the history of Wyndham’s Theatre. His association with Bill Kenwright started with his revolutionary production of Design For Living starring Rachel Weisz.

Ian McKellen made his long overdue debut at Theatre Royal Windsor last year in his acclaimed solo show. He was heralded that year as the most important actor in British theatre. Over the years he has worked with Sean Mathias consistently, most recently in WAITING AND GODOT and NO MAN’S LAND with another friend, Patrick Stewart.  Mathias directed him as Uncle Vanya at the National Theatre and is looking forward to a further Chekhov journey. McKellen’s performances in Shakespeare are legendary, from Macbeth with Judi Dench to his film of RICHARD III with Maggie Smith. He played Hamlet on tour and in the West End nearly fifty years ago and is looking forward to the challenge of a return visit.

Bill Kenwright’s estimated 500 productions include West End successes Jessica Lange in A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie and Long Day’s Journey Into Night; Judi Dench in Filumena, Hay Fever and The Gift of the Gorgon (all directed by Sir Peter Hall); Rufus Norris’ Festen and Cabaret; The Wizard of Oz (Palladium); Joseph (Adelphi and New London); Evita (Dominion); and the Windrush musical The Big Life (Lyric Theatre). Broadway highlights include: Dancing At Lughnasa, Medea, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, Théâtre de Complicite’s The Chairs (multiple Tony Awards). Blood Brothers, which he also directed, ran for three years on Broadway (Music Box) and 24 years in the West End (Phoenix).


Director: Sean Mathias; Set Designer: Lee Newby; Costume Designer: Loren Elstein; Lighting Designer: Jamie Platt; Composer and Sound Designer: Adam Cork.

The Barn Theatre’s production of the comic thriller The 39 Steps will transfer to the Theatre Royal Windsor

Built By Barn

Winner of the Best Fringe Theatre at the 2019 Stage Awards, The Barn Theatre’s upcoming production of the classic comic thriller, The 39 Steps, which opens at the Cirencester theatre in July 2019, will now transfer to the Theatre Royal Windsor from 12 – 17 August 2019. The production launches the theatre’s Built By Barn initiative, transferring shows from the venue across the UK.

Based on John Buchan’s 1914 spy thriller The Thirty Nine Steps and adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow, The 39 Steps will be directed by Joseph O’Malley, with designs by Mike Leopold. Further creatives and full casting to be announced in due course.

Iwan LewisArtistic Director, The Barn Theatre, said, “It was always part of the long-term strategy as a producing house to look at opportunities to transfer our ‘Built By Barn’ shows and give them life beyond The Barn Theatre. This is the first of many and a very exciting development in our future growth.”

The Barn Theatre has been building a reputation since its opening just over a year ago, as an exciting, innovative producing house, and hopes to build on this success by providing its audience with a mix of challenging, entertaining and topical theme across its programming.

The 39 Steps is part of The Barn’s 2019 season of in-house productions, and runs at The Barn Theatre from 10 July – 10 August. The season includes four other in-house productions: one of Michael Morpurgo’s finest works, The Butterfly Lion, which finishes a highly successful run on 4 May; William Shakespeare’s classic history, Henry V, directed by Hal Chambers and starring Aaron Sidwell and Lauren Samuels, which runs from 22 May – 22 June; the award-winning musical Daddy Long Legs, running from 2 October – 2 November; and a reimagining of Charles Dickens’ festive masterpiece, A Christmas Carol, from 27 November – 4 January.

A cast of four, deftly take on a Hitchcock classic, The 39 Steps, in a wonderfully inventive comic-thriller parody adaptation of John Buchan’s 1915 novel.

 The 39 Steps follows the incredible adventures of our handsome hero Richard Hannay, complete with stiff-upper-lip and British gung-ho spirit as he encounters dastardly murders, double-crossing secret agents, and devastatingly beautiful women. The show is a frantic farce, jampacked with slapstick humour, a barrage of accents and hat-swaps culminating in chaos and calamity.

 This wonderfully inventive and gripping comedy thriller features four fearless actors, playing 139 roles in 100 minutes of fast-paced fun, thrilling action and a colossal number of costume changes. Madcap hilarity for all the family!

 Joseph O’Malley’s directing credits include The Hound of the Baskervilles (Barn Theatre), The Ugly Duckling and Other Stories (UK Tour) and Seeds of Change (Lion and Unicorn). Joseph’s assistant director credits include One Minute (Barn Theatre) and Significant Other (Vaults, Waterloo). Other upcoming productions include The Hound of the Baskervilles (UK Tour) and A Christmas Carol (Yvonne Arnaud Theatre).


The 39 Steps

Presented by Barn Theatre by arrangement with Edward Snape for Fiery Angel Ltd.

Theatre Royal Windsor

Monday 12 August – Saturday 17 August 2019

Written by John Buchan

Adapted by Patrick Barlow

From an original concept by Simon Noble and Nobby Dimon

Directed by Joseph O’Malley