To Be Or Not To Be? – My fantasy cast for Benedict Cumberbatch’s Barbican Hamlet!

Ever since the rumours began about the prospect of Benedict Cumberbatch taking on Hamlet under the direction of Lyndsey Turner I have been trying to picture the cast as a whole. For me, the strength of a production of Hamlet rests on the ensemble of actors and if something doesn’t quite work it takes away from the overall piece. This was never made more clear to me than the RSC’s superb 2008 Hamlet, which not only starred another of my favourite actors David Tennant, but ensured he was surrounded by talented actors in every role. I have yet to see a finer Polonius than Oliver Ford Davies, or a Horatio that has moved me as much as Peter De Jersey as he held his dying friend.

So whilst the speculation continues as to who will be joining Benedict on the Barbican stage next August, here is my wish list of actors that I think could work well as talented individuals but also as a group (I have included photo credits where possible). I’m also hugely curious to hear who you would pick so please feel free to leave your choices in the comments. Maybe we can get an interesting debate going!

So, starting with the obvious…

Hamlet – Benedict Cumberbatch!

I think Benedict truly shines on stage and remains an actor I can never miss at the theatre. I adored After The Dance (see my earlier blog post) and since then have been lucky enough to see his impressive range (from Frankenstein, to a rehearsed reading of Look Back in Anger and a touching scene at The Children’s Monlogues charity gala). I am sure he will bring us a very powerful Hamlet, that I hope will draw a wider audience to Shakespeare.


Photo courtesy of What’s On Stage

Claudius – Charles Dance  OR Colin Salmon

For me this role needs a strong actor, capable of commanding the stage and conveying the very real sense that this is a dangerous man not to be taken lightly and who is a match for Hamlet. I would find Charles Dance to be an exciting choice.

UPDATE – Another thought came to me today that I was also quite excited by and so this cast needed to be updated. How about Colin Salmon? He would certainly bring a gravitas to the role and it would be great to see him in something else with Benedict after their short film Little Favour (available on iTunes if you missed it).



Gertrude – Lindsay Duncan OR Kristin Scott Thomas

My first thought was Lindsay Duncan, as she is a brilliant actress who I can envisage in the demanding scenes with Hamlet. Then @shaksper on Twitter mentioned Kristin Scott Thomas, which would also be fantastic so I’ve included both here.



Ophelia – Jessica Raine

I first saw Jessica in Earthquakes in London in 2010 and have seen almost all her plays since. Now best known for Call The Midwife, she is a fantastic actress who I think could bring all the emotions needed for Ophelia, as well as being a great match for Benedict’s Hamlet.


Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

Polonius – Roger Allam

It took me a while to decide on a Polonius (my mind is very attached to Mr Ford Davies). Roger Allam is a superb actor and always brings Shakespeare to life so clearly and I’d love to see his portrayal of this character (and anyone who knows the BBC radio comedy Cabin Pressure knows he has a great relationship with Benedict).


Photo by Chris McAndrew

Laertes – Tom Burke

Another of my top stage actors, I think Tom would be able to convey both the gentle brotherly side of Laertes towards his sister as well as the anger and distress needed for the powerful scenes with Hamlet later on (plus after the BBC’s The Musketeers we know he is good with a sword!).


Photo by Keith Pattison (I think!)

Horatio – John Heffernan

I struggled with choosing this part as I believe that the friendship between Hamlet and Horatio needs to feel genuine, in order to add an emotional strength to the end of the play and I think that this is possible between John and Benedict. Quite simply I think John Heffernan is a stunning actor and he would always have to be included in any dream cast list of mine and reuniting two actors from After The Dance was too tempting for me to ignore (I also think he’ll make a fantastic Hamlet too one day)!


Rosencrantz & Guildenstern – Hugh Skinner & Harry Melling

I have seen some interesting pairings for this duo and very nearly chose Sam Alexander and Tom Davey as they will always be these characters to me, but I thought I’d pick two talented actors that could work well together and add the comic touches that often come to the fore in their scenes.


Photo by Pal Hansen


Osric – Oliver Rix

In reality I think this is too small a role for Oliver Rix, whose stunning Aumerle in the RSC’s recent Richard II will no doubt see him becoming more prominent on stage and screen. However, as this is my dream cast list he had to feature somewhere and is a little too young for the larger male roles.


The Gravedigger – Nicholas Lumley

This isn’t a huge role but is one which has scope to be incredibly memorable. I have seen Nicholas Lumley in a number of productions and I think he’d be perfect for the comedy needed in these moments with Hamlet.


Photo courtesy of Diamond Management website

So what do you think? I cannot decide whether the Ghost of Hamlet’s father should be played by a different actor or Claudius so I’m going to leave that question for the moment.

Feel free to share your own suggestions. It can keep us all busy until further information is released in the months ahead!

Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch is scheduled to run from 5 August – 31 October 2015 at the Barbican Theatre in London.


10 thoughts on “To Be Or Not To Be? – My fantasy cast for Benedict Cumberbatch’s Barbican Hamlet!”

  1. I’ve been toying with the idea of HefferHoratio too, but keep just ending up imagining how fantastic he’d be as Hamlet instead! (But I’m such a believer in his ability to do ANYTHING he’d probably do a good Gertrude if he wanted to xD) Love your whole cast!

    1. I know what you mean. He’ll be a wonderful Hamlet one day, but I had to have him in the cast somewhere as he is always magical to watch! Thanks for the comment. 🙂

    1. I hadn’t considered her to be honest. I imagine you are right though that she would be a bit too Hollywood to be in it. It’ll certainly be interesting to hear casting news.

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