Culture, On Stage

The other Hamlet

William and Tommy Jessop fight to make the documentary of a play, starring young people with Down syndrome or learning disabilities.

Text by Olga Briasco

Photos by Blue Apple Theatre

Staging the works of William Shakespeare is complex, but nevertheless Blue Apple Theatre, founded in 2005, persisted so that the actors with Down syndrome or learning disabilities would play Hamlet.

It is the theatre company’s most ambitious project to date. Not because the play was written by the English playwright – in 2010 they performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream– but because it is the first time they have toured. This has made Tommy Jessop the first professional actor with Down Syndrome.

William Jessop, both Blue Apple’s writer and the director of the documentary, Hamlet in Love, specifies that it is a “fresh“ and “fun“ adaptation in which some parts have been removed “to compress it into an hour“. In his opinion, this has enabled it to be “more exciting and faster than the original“.

The kind and caring nature of the players led to a debate regarding the outcome of the work. “Most of them preferred an ending in which Hamlet and Ophelia lived happily ever after, but Lawrie Morris (Claudio) opposed it because, as a fan of Shakespeare, he wanted to keep the original ending“.

However, he gave in to a demand marked by Tommy and Katy: “The actors portraying Hamlet and Ophelia are a couple in real life and did not understand the cruelty of Hamlet, therefore their relationship is more loving“, says the young man making a comparison to Romeo and Juliet.

Tommy Jessop himself (Hamlet) confirms that he fell in love with Katy Francis (Ophelia) during rehearsals. Some trials that began in October 2011 with the six players who were to take part in the tour. “The first thing we did was ask what role they wanted to play and then see how they responded to the classical language.

“They did so well that we decided not to do the work in a more modern language,“ the 29-year old notes with pride.

For the director, intonation and pronunciation was the hardest part. “The faces of people with Down syndrome are slightly different and some have large tongues, which is why we work with each of them to ensure that everyone could be heard and understood.“

With the help of a professional and his enthusiasm for “improvement“, they perfected their skills and demonstrated how “they are capable of achieving anything they want”.

The ability to excel has led the company to choose a French farce for their next performance. “We are moving from tragedy to comedy and from sixteenth century English to nineteenth century French,“ William says with a smile.

The documentary and Tommy

The process of developing the play and the stories and thoughts of the actors were filmed by William Jessop himself with the idea of making a documentary. “There are over 200 hours of footage“ he says.

William y Tommy Jessop

The objective is to share the amazing story of  this extraordinary production, the trials and the tour went. “This film is fascinating and it’s really nice to see how people with learning disabilities or Down Syndrome can act and meet the challenges they face“.

William now needs to raise the funding to complete the film, and he is aware that this will take time and patience.

The truth is that if the documentary came to light, society would have the opportunity to learn more about the life of Tommy Jessop (Prince Hamlet), a young man who at the age of 27 has already starred in a documentary with his brother (“Tommy’s Story“), as well as the recent BAFTA nominated drama Coming Down the Mountain, for BBC One.

“I really like acting, it’s fun and I like being the centre of attention “says Tommy about a career that began in 2003.

For the young director, his brother is “an inspiration” and thanked him for his help. “He has given me the opportunity to be a writer and make this documentary“.

It is a mutual help as William questions what would happen if he was not involved in Blue Apple Theatre: “Tommy is playing Hamlet, in part, because I am supporting him. We are both very excited to be working together“.

(Translated by: Sophie Maling –

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