Actress Katie King, who is soon to play the role of Hamlet, takes a break from her line-learning, and gives Maebh Butler insight into what it’s like to jump from the role of “ditzy scouse girl” to Shakespeare’s complicated character.
A woman full of charisma and energy, acting is clearly something that is close to Katie King’s heart. This is particularly clear given her current preparation to play one of the most famous characters ever written: Hamlet. She faces the challenge of not only playing a complex character, but also a male one. However King seems perfectly at ease with the task, and her love of acting shines through as the reason for this. “I think I’ve always wanted to act and loved that one day it’d be my career,” she explains.
Studying in Liverpool Community College at the age of sixteen for three years led her to another three years in The Arden Theatre School where she graduated with a BA Honours and she explains she has been mainly involved with theatre around Liverpool ever since.
Spending so much time in Liverpool, however, must prove difficult to break away from that scene and Katie admits that before the role of Hamlet came along, she was constantly being cast in a comedic role, playing up her scouser persona. This, she says, is not necessarily a bad thing but at the same time admits that although she has fun playing the funny guy, Hamlet finally allows her to explore the darker side of herself. “Hamlet is completely different to that and I love it!” She is enjoying delving into the darker side of the character, something which she hasn’t had that many opportunities to do before.
Katie also explains how she found some difficulties with trying to fully understand her character and that she really has to question the motives behind the actions. Hamlet, for those who don’t know, is the story of a Prince attempting to avenge the death of his murdered father. As is true of most Shakespearian tragedies, chaos and death ensues in what is a highly dramatic play. Transforming herself into one of the most conflicted characters ever written can’t be easy. “It’s been hard working her out. There’s been days when my head’s battered and I’m like ‘what the hell?!’ But when I find another piece to her jigsaw I understand her that little bit more.”
While King is certainly immersing herself in the character, it came as a surprise at first when she was given the male lead in the play. “At first I was like ‘they’ve gave me the wrong part, surely it’s a typo.’ I did think at first, how are we going to do that? How can I pull this off? But now it doesn’t feel like a man’s role, it just fits and it works as a female.”
It’s difficult not to see this as quite a breakthrough for women in theatre. King says that changing Hamlet to a female character doesn’t affect the plot at all. “To be honest, sometimes we forget that Hamlet is written for a man! We have to remind ourselves sometimes that it may be a shock to the audience.” Their production of Hamlet seems to be suggesting that the gender of a character is not an important issue when there’s a plot as riveting as Hamlet. “I don’t think it matters about there being a female Hamlet. It’s just a person who’s lost her dad. It’s just about one person’s journey in coming to terms with what’s going on.”
Clearly PurpleCoat productions have no fear in breaking the theatrical boundaries and appear to successfully bring an old story into a modern world as this version of Hamlet has been set in a council estate, in Liverpool in the 1980s. Katie is no stranger to experimental Shakespeare productions and reveals that she was involved with a lot of Shakespeare during her time in drama school, where she took part in an all-female cast of Twelfth Night, set in the 1960s. It can’t go unnoticed that clearly gender is a big issue within theatre and it is making way for so much exploration and experimentation in productions such as the PurpleCoat’s.
As well as Hamlet, Katie will be involved in another Shakespeare production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which is also going to be blasted forward into the backdrop of a modern day nightclub centred on a hen party. Definitely a score for originality at least. Katie explains that both productions offer such a different atmosphere and this makes rehearsals for each play a total contrast. Hamlet enables the cast to deal with the darker and deeper issues whereas A Midsummer Night’s Dream offers a bit of light-hearted relief.
Katie promises that the audience certainly won’t be disappointed and with all the hard work that seems to be going into the productions, both plays are sounding to be something pretty amazing. A production most definitely not to be missed, the audience can expect to be shocked and surprised from the PurpleCoat’s original and modern twists. “Believe me Hamlet being a girl is not the only shocker in the play!”
Purple Coat Productions will bring Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the Smock Alley Theatre. Hamlet will be performed on the 9th and the 11th April, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the 8th and 10th. Tickets are on sale now.