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Iconic Shakespeare tale brought to Stratford by first all-black cast

PUBLISHED: 12:00 29 October 2016

Offue Okegbe on stage as Horation. Picture: Tristram Kenton

Offue Okegbe on stage as Horation. Picture: Tristram Kenton

©Tristram Kenton

What better time to perform the UK's first all-black Hamlet production than the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death?

The significant milestone is “exciting” according to actor and former Stratford schoolboy Offue Okegbe, who stars in a new telling of one of the Bard’s most famous tragedies.

Playing Horatio, Hamlet’s trusted friend, he will appear in Black Theatre Live’s version of the play at Stratford Circus on Wednesday.

“It’s exciting because of the fact that they decided that they wanted to find black actors to play these parts in a particular way,” he said.

“Now it is done we can carry on and do more of it.”

The 34-year-old actor said that the fact that it is an all-black cast hasn’t been a huge talking point with other audiences so far.

“I think they are just wrapped up in the story rather than thinking we have got black actors playing the parts,” he added.

Always a popular choice with audiences, Hamlet has long been adaptable with alternate renditions influenced by feminism and politics.

Offue says that director Jeffery Kissoon’s two-and-a-half hour show –reasonably compact for the heavyweight play – is an “amalgamation” of other versions.

“Ours is more about the relationships between Hamlet’s mum and dad,” he said, “rather than it being focused on politics.”

Meanwhile, his character has had a sympathetic update for modern theatre-goers.

“Horatio can often be sycophantic,” Offue explained. “Here he is more of a sounding board [to Hamlet] and is able to challenge him as well.”

Interestingly, Offue never expected to act professionally at all despite “enjoying” acting at West Ham Secondary School – now Stratford School Academy.

He studied biochemistry at university during which he realised a life inside labs wasn’t for him.

Does he have any regrets? “I might have ended up making documentaries,” he replied.

It seems not then.

Show runs until Saturday. Tickets £13-£15 from stratford-circus.com

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