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Not guilty: Hamlet cleared of murder

Top legal minds go on stage alongside actors for a live courtroom drama in aid of charity

A rehearsal of a production Trial of Hamlet, in aid of the Shakespeare Schools Festival at Wyndham’s Theatre in London. Photos: John Stillwell/PA Wire

A rehearsal of a production Trial of Hamlet, in aid of the Shakespeare Schools Festival at Wyndham’s Theatre in London. Photos: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Hamlet was cleared of murder on Sunday as some of Britain’s top legal minds went on stage alongside actors and comedians for a live courtroom drama.

Shakespeare’s fictional Danish prince stood in the dock in front of real-life Court of Appeal judge Lady Justice Hallett and four top QCs (Queen’s Counsels), accused of murder over the violent stabbing death of Polonius.

The Trial of Hamlet saw Tom Conti, Poldark star Ruby Bentall, Meera Syal and Lee Mack take on the roles of the play’s protagonists as they gave evidence both for and against the troubled royal, played by John Heffernan. They were joined by schoolchildren taking part in programmes run by event organiser the Shakespeare Schools Festival (SSF), who performed ‘flashback’ scenes.

Lady Justice Hallett during a rehearsal of the production.Lady Justice Hallett during a rehearsal of the production.

The audience at Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End became the jury, aided by Outnumbered star Hugh Dennis as foreman, to clear him of any wrongdoing.

Shakespeare’s best-known work sees Hamlet thrust a dagger into his murderous stepfather/uncle Claudius’s chief minister as the older man spied on him from behind an ‘arras’ – a tapestry.

But his defence team successfully claimed he acted in self-defence. Now in its third year, the show’s forgiving audiences have previously acquitted both Romeo and Macbeth.

Lady Justice Hallett said: “There are an awful lot of us who have really not wanted to be role models but I have come to understand it’s really important that people do see that women, people from modest backgrounds like mine, that they can make it through the professions.

“I think the more we do have role models around, the more we can encourage children to aspire to greater things.

“And that’s one of the things I love about this exercise. The SSF is all about taking children who might otherwise not have thought about the law or even doing things in a more senior level. It will give them the confidence I hope to aspire higher.”

The performance raised £60,000 for the SSF, which works to bring Shakespeare to children in schools that might not otherwise have access to the theatre.

The charity has been running Shakespeare projects since 2000 and says more than 250,000 youngsters have taken part in its programmes. This year, more than 1,100 schools have put on performances in 131 theatres nationwide, it said.

Conti, who played Claudius, said: “I would never encourage children to go into my business, never ever. But I would encourage schools to involve children in the arts generally using acting and writing and all of that.

“Because it’s very good for a young mind and lots of children who can be troubled can find some kind of... emotional assistance somehow in acting parts.”

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