Friday, May 4, 2012

actor with Down syndrome tackles Hamlet

from This is Cornwall:

A theatre company is to stage Shakespeare's Hamlet at the Minack Theatre with a Down's Syndrome actor taking the title role for the very first time.

Tommy Jessop, pictured, whose work includes a lead role in the BAFTA-nominated Coming Down The Mountain on BBC television, is touring with Blue Apple Theatre, one of the leading disability arts companies in the south which creates opportunities for actors with learning disabilities to perform in mainstream productions.

The play is being staged at Porthcurno's Minack on Saturday, May 12, at 7.30pm and will continue its tour across 12 UK locations.

Jane Jessop, founding director of Blue Apple Theatre in Winchester, said Hamlet was chosen as "the ultimate Shakespeare play" that would challenge both the cast and audience.

"All that actors with learning disabilities can mostly get is a supporting role so to put someone like Tommy with Down's Syndrome on stage as Hamlet, one of the highest profile roles in the whole of world literature, is extremely exciting.

"Watching it is like seeing a miracle, knowing what the prognosis is for people when they're born with Down's Syndrome and how so little is expected of them," she added.

"Shakespeare speaks to us all. I believe this will be extremely thought-provoking, powerful and utterly moving and we will all, cast and audiences, gain something wonderful from this production," said Jane.

The actors at Blue Apple Theatre have a range of disabilities, such as autism, including Asperger Syndrome, Down's Syndrome and behavioural difficulties. The discipline, challenge and excitement of learning lines, rehearsing and putting on a play helps them to develop new skills and increase their self-esteem, confidence and independence.

Blue Apple's Hamlet has been adapted by scriptwriter and film-maker William Jessop, 29, who has shortened the 210-minute play to just 70 minutes, without losing the key elements of the drama.

He said: "I've kept Shakespeare's original language, so the key challenge has been to work closely with each actor to make sure they understand and own everything they're saying and make each part their own."

Tommy, 27, who has featured in Casualty, Holby City and in afternoon plays on BBC Radio 4, said that Hamlet was his most difficult role to date.

"Learning the lines has been challenging, as Hamlet's in almost every other scene, and there's a range of emotions to put across. There's a bit of sadness, a bit of happiness and a bit of anger," he added.

To book tickets, phone the Minack on 01736 810181 or visit

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