As the NFT's forthcoming season proves, Hamlet remains the big one for ambitious boys - and for some girls too, given that a silent Bernhardt and an equally mute Asta Neilsen had a crack at the great Dane (Bernhardt, complete with wooden leg and wooden gestures, was the first woman to play Hamlet on screen).

You don't have to be a genius to see why: here's this man-boy who doesn't even know he has an Oedipus complex. Well, maybe. . . if other hands did in Daddy, why's Hamlet so guilt blitzed? (Freud says that in our heart of hearts we all wished our fathers dead.) The role's a perfect, potent seesaw of primal desire and intellectual angst (Hamlet spends most of his time analysing himself - to no great avail). It's hardly surprising everyone from Nicol Williamson to Mel Gibson (see right) to twins Anthony and David Meyer should feel tempted to match themselves to Shakespeare's rigorous demands.

Arnold Schwarzenegger might treat the challenge as a joke - Last Action Hero contains a spoof trailer for Hamlet with Arnie acting out his infantile aggressions with a machine gun - but the NFT's assemblage of the constantly mutating tale (see Claude Chabrol's Ophelia, Helmut Kutner's Der Rest ist Schweigen and Edgar G Ulmer's Out of the Night) proves not only its durability, but its topicality. Hamlet, Gertrude, the dead King and Uncle Claudius are the dysfunctional family par excellence and their problem-page gyrations infect an entire state until it stinks. Somehow, the smell lingers on, part perfume, part stench, as memorable and divided as the haunted prince himself. . .

NFT: Walking Shadows - Hamlet runs from 7-30 June (box office: 071-928 3232)

(Photograph omitted)