The actor Jonathan Slinger is clearly unfamiliar with the concept of playing down expectations.
"A lot of people say that it is impossible for one actor to encompass everything that Hamlet is," says Slinger, who will play the lead role for the Royal Shakespeare Company in March. "My challenge is to prove them wrong; to deliver everything that an audience expects from a Hamlet and to deliver it in one performance."
He was officially given the part this summer. "We'd been talking about it at the RSC for a while, and it all came together this year. I was relieved, really. I've just turned 40, and I think once you're past 40, playing a student is pushing credibility somewhat."
The headline production of the RSC's 2013 season will team up Slinger with director David Farr. The pair have previously collaborated in successful productions of Twelfth Night and The Tempest. "Working with a director you know well helps enormously. You're not having to dance around each other. When you work with a director for the first time, there's a certain amount of both of you assessing how the other one is working."
One of the challenges for any actor playing Hamlet is making sense of his apparently contradictory nature. He is in turn incoherent and lucid, affectionate and abusive, decisive and hesitant. "It is human nature to be contradictory: we are one thing and the opposite at the same time. Shakespeare understood that better than anybody. If you're only ever showing one side to a character, you're not doing the part justice."
How does Slinger view the prospect of delivering theatre's most famous soliloquy? "First of all, you've got to forget that it's that speech. You have to ask yourself: what thought is in his mind which precipitates it? Once you've got that, the speech comes out of a moment of truth, of spontaneity, rather than just: here comes 'to be or not to be', folks."
After graduating from Rada in 1994, Slinger went straight into rep and then to the National Theatre. He joined the RSC in 2004, and quickly became one of artistic director Michael Boyd's most trusted lieutenants. He has earned excellent reviews as Lenny in The Homecoming and, during a brief flight from the RSC nest, as Bernard in the stage version of Yes, Prime Minister.
It is his performances as a Shakespearean leading man, playing Richard II, Richard III, Macbeth and Prospero however, which have led Boyd to call him "without doubt one of the finest actors of his generation".
'Hamlet', Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (www.rsc.org.uk) 14 March to 28 September
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