The Danish play lays its curse on princely careers: Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company may not foster continued success. David Lister examines the fates of some of his predecessors

THE Royal Shakespeare Company has taken the biggest advance in its 32-year history - pounds 1.3m for Hamlet, which opened at the Barbican Centre in London last weekend and transfers to Stratford upon Avon in the spring.

Kenneth Branagh has received largely favourable reviews for his performance in the title role in Adrian Noble's production.

However, he might be alarmed to learn that being an RSC Hamlet guarantees neither the status of household name nor a triumphant stage career. The Danish play can be as unlucky as the Scottish play.

The last to play the role in 1988 was Mark Rylance - the pyjama'd Hamlet. After playing it he started up a hippy company, performing Shakespeare in the open air surrounded by stones on ley lines. He was preceded in 1987 by Philip Franks, last seen in television's The Darling Buds Of May.

Indeed it can be said that with a couple of notable exceptions, few of the RSC Hamlets, from Ian Bannen in 1961 through Alan Howard, Ben Kingsley, Michael Pennington and Roger Rees, fulfilled the promise of the glittering stage careers their successes in the role anticipated.

Bannen and Rees deserted the British stage for long periods. Kingsley moved into films. Only Howard and Pennington really maintained theatrical careers.

What happened to one of the RSC's most triumphant princes, David Warner in 1965, whose tortured student with college scarf was described by Ronald Bryden as getting 'more of humanity into the part than any previous Hamlet I've seen'?

Warner made a few lacklustre films, rarely played on the British stage again, has settled in America and was recently seen in Star Trek.

Branagh comes to the part with an unappealing condition - that every mention of him in programmes, on leaflets and posters must point out that he appears by arrangement with Renaissance Theatre Company, the first time in the company's history an actor has been allowed such an agreement. Renaissance is Branagh's own outfit. Branagh, it could be argued, is appearing by arrangement with Branagh. The insistence that a world renowned company like the RSC has to pay tribute to Renaissance has been publicly criticised by the head of the National Theatre, Richard Eyre. Branagh has never been invited to play at the National.

The public's record advance at the box office shows that the curious phenomenon of the Eighties, Branagh-worship, continues. But the critics found it harder to make up their minds than the prince himself, covering the whole spectrum of emotions from 'The great Hamlet of our time' (Jack Tinker, Daily Mail), through a 'slower, more reflective and movingly filial prince' (Paul Taylor, the Independent) to 'Branagh leaves me lukewarm and underwhelmed . . . he has still to prove himself a major Shakespearian. Branagh finds passion or rage daunting' (Nicholas De Jongh, London Evening Standard).

(Photographs omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Environment
Pigeons have been found with traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system
environmentCan species be 'de-extincted'?
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
A Pilgrim’s Progress is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of David Hockney's life and works
people
Sport
Loic Remy signs for Chelsea
footballBlues wrap up deal on the eve of the transfer window
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker
TV
Life and Style
Instagram daredevils get thousands of followers
techMeet the daredevil photographers redefining urban exploration with death-defying stunts
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'
TVDaughter says contestant was manipulated 'to boost ratings'
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher - Hull

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are recruiting for spe...

Primary Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking EY...

Primary Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: NEWLY QUALIFIED TEACHER WE CAN HELP ...

Lead FE Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, jQuery, Knockout)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead FE Softwa...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor