HAMLET isn’t a dark, brooding young man with an overly fondness for his mum and the potential to become a psychotic killer.

He’s a she. In fact, Shakespeare’s central character we learn is something of a daddy’s girl.

How is this possible? Well, anything is possible in theatreland, and especially so in the world of the Bard in the Botanics, the Shakespeare season which runs each summer in Glasgow.

Thanks to Gordon Barr’s inventive and creative imagination, this year Hamlet has the XX chromosome.

“When we started to talk about how to play him we thought about playing him as a male,” says the star of the show, Nicole Cooper.

We were open minded about it, but the more we talked about the idea the more it felt right to play Hamlet as a female.

“And then it became really interesting trying to look at the relationships between people, when Hamlet is in fact a woman.”

This could be tricky. Hamlet, as we know is (was) an angry, frustrated, potentially mad man. He stabs Claudius. At the end of the play the stage is littered with bodies. It could well be a scene from Killing Eve.

“Yes, and that’s a great example,” says Nicole, “because women, when pushed, can become killers too.”

But what of the writing. Does it transfer?


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“Some of Hamlet’s language is fairly misogynistic,” agrees Nicole. “He’s aggressive towards his mother. And that doesn’t quite work when he becomes a woman.

“But some of his behaviour is feminine. For example, he struggles with his role as a man. He’s a lover, not a fighter. And one of his biggest issues is he can’t inflict violence unless he’s 100 per cent sure if this is the right thing to do.”

The actress adds; “As a woman looking at these script I can see a female Hamlet having these emotions, a person being so overcome with grief they become inactive.

“For example, the ghost has asked Hamlet to avenge his death and he doesn’t understand his place. Perhaps this is why he’s been away at university. There are a lot of typical male responses in the language but there are a lot of female reactions.

“I think it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”

Shakespeare may well be spinning in his grave right now at the very thought of his Hamlet being gender switched.

But such metaphysical meanderings don’t matter. What matters is that they buy into it.”

Yet, does she feel; a male Hamlet would have the same disgust towards his mother on marrying her husband’s brother?

“Yes, because it’s about grief. I recently lost my father and it’s something I’m in touch with at the moment. When people pass away you can return to being a little child-like.

“You find yourself hero-worshipping a man. And Hamlet hero-worshipped her father. For her to suddenly see this new relationship there’s a feeling of ‘How dare you.’ And we can assume Hamlet has always been a bit of a daddy’s girl.

“She and her mother have always battled for her father’s affection. Again, none of us wants to admit that our parents have faults. And there’s no doubt Hamlet thinks her father is wonderful.”


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Does Nicole think of her father during rehearsals? “Yes, it makes you think about the whole notion of grief. And as well as losing my dad I also lost several other members of my family.

“It was all thick and fast. I couldn’t come to terms with it. To cope I had to step outside of myself.”

Nicole is a mother of three girls. “I remember doing the school run, and having this horrible news in the back of my head. I knew I had to carry on as normal, but at the same time I was asking myself ‘Just how much can the human heart take?’

“It’s something I have to navigate. You expect the sky to be different colour, this is a seismic even, yet you still have to make packed lunches. That is the priority. You have to find a way to make life carry on, especially when the loss comes one after another

“But I had to carry on. Then I went to Greece for my dad’s memorial. I needed the closure. It sound corny, but you come to believe the person isn’t lost to you. You just see them in a different way.”

She adds; “You can appreciate how certain types of grief can drive someone to extremes. And in our version of Hamlet you are asking is she mad, or is the grief so overwhelming? “

“The central focus on this version will be on grief. Gertrude has it. Hamlet is in the middle of this hurricane of grief and she cant cope. Nicole smiles; “And on top of all that she’s been visited by ghosts.”

Nicole Cooper loves the Bard in the Botanics. Despite the variable weather.

“When you’re outdoors you have the whole day to psyche yourself up and then you get into costume and you’re ready to go – and then it rains and you don’t get to release all this pent up energy.

“It’s frustrating. But having said that, you can make connections with the audience you don’t get the chance to make in a conventional theatre. You can walk amongst them, you can hear them sniff when they’re about to cry.”

Nicole’s three children will come to see her in her other appearance in As You Like It and the two oldest will see Hamlet.

“They’ve grown up with this company,” she says of her long history with Bard In the Botanics.

“And I’m sure they’ll enjoy our Hamlet. It’s such a beautiful story.”

She adds, smiling; “We just have to tell it. And hope for dry days.”