The Old Mill Theatre is opening its 2011 season this February with one of Shakespeare’s all-time greatest blockbusters.

Directed by the experienced and well-known John Milson, Hamlet has been described as “the greatest play, by the greatest writer who ever lived”.

“Over the centuries, since the play was first published in 1603, very few scholars, critics, actors and audiences have disagreed with that verdict,” Milson said.

The play is set in the kingdom of Denmark and tells the story of Prince Hamlet gaining revenge on his uncle Claudius for murdering the king – Hamlet’s father and Claudius’ brother – after he gains the throne and marries the widowed queen.

Milson describes Hamlet as a “monumental play” full of action and suspense, matched with questions and reflections about the purpose of human existence.

He points to a comment made by author, television presenter and humourist Clive James to sum up its appeal over the past 400 years.

“Hamlet is the human intelligence made universal, so he belongs to all of us,” James said. “We’re all like him.”

For centuries, every great stage actor in the UK, US and Australia has tackled the lead role – everyone from Sir Laurence Olivier, Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branagh through to former Doctor Who David Tennant, Ethan Hawke and Rory Kinnear.

“The role of Hamlet has long been considered the supreme test of an actor’s powers,” Milson said.

“The magnificent language of the play ranges from sublime poetry to rich humour and many of its phrases have passed into everyday use.”

In 2010, Milson celebrated a 40-year career as a director and lecturer, covering drama, opera, musicals and cabaret.

Originally from Sydney, he has been based in Perth since 1986 and was head of musical theatre at the WA Academy of Performing Arts for 12 years, where he worked with a vast array of students who went on to bigger and better things, including actor Lisa McCune, musical theatre performers Lara Mulcahy and Alexander Lewis and opera singer Emma Matthews.

Milson has also received an Order of Australia for his services to the performing arts and WA Equity Guild Awards for best director and lifetime achievement in the arts.

He cast Izaak Lim in the title role of Hamlet, after first working with him in a 2009 production of The Talented Mr Ripley where they won accolades for best actor and director at the annual Finley Awards.

“When the Old Mill Theatre approached me to do a production, I immediately suggested Hamlet,” Milson said.

“After seven other Shakespearean plays, I now feel confident enough to tackle this Everest of a play, where so many of the themes and ideas continue to make it as relevant as tomorrow.

“And the Old Mill is an intimate theatre that affords actors much wider vocal range than usual, going from roars to whispers.

“Above all, Izaak is a lead actor of exceptional intelligence, bravery and sensitivity and, at just 21, he is Hamlet’s supposed age.

“All in the cast are a delight to work with and I’m particularly pleased to be re-united with well-known Perth actor Andy King, whom I’ve worked with professionally for more than 35 years.”

Hamlet plays at 7.30pm, February 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18 and 19 with a 2pm matinee on February 13.

Tickets are $20, $15 concession – book on 9367 8719 or oldmilltheatre@iinet.net.au.