Agents have been known to take on clients with the question, 'Do you think you're ready to play Hamlet yet?' Daniel Day Lewis couldn't cope and exited from Richard Eyre's National Theatre production. This led to Ian Charleson taking over the role during the last weeks of his life, giving a terrifying performance of a man facing the four last things: death, judgement, heaven and hell.

It's the producers and directors who call the shots, but there are a few actors whose name can ensure a production, for example Kenneth Branagh's recent return to the RSC for his odd man-of-action portrayal.

Just prior to that, Robert Struara directed Alan Rickman in the role. Unfortunately, by the time he was bankable enough to play the lead (having 'made it on both stage and screen), Rickman was a touch mature, which no amount of starting every scene at a run could disguise. He even raced on for the audience participation scene (the bit where everyone recites 'To be or not to be).

After causing a stir in Angels in America Stephen Dillane (right) is next, in Peter Hall's production. Fortunately for all concerned it is unlikely to rival Rockabye Hamlet, the 1976 jaw-dropper in which Polonius sang (to Laertes) 'Good son - you return to France/Keep your divinity inside your pants. Ophelia died by strangling herself with her mike cord. . .'

'Hamlet' is at the Richmond Theatre until Sat 3 Sept (081-940 0088). It opens in the West End at the Gielgud Theatre in Nov (071-494 5065)

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