Windsor's Theatre Royal has become the first major theatre in the UK to welcome actors back onto its stage this week - led by the legendary 81-year-old Sir Ian McKellen.

Rehearsals are due to begin on Monday at the theatre for a new production of Hamlet which will see Sir Ian give an 'age blind' performance of the part he first played 50 years ago.

The play is being directed by 74-year-old legendary director Sean Mathias and produced by famed impresario Bill Kenwright - who owns the Theatre Royal.

It is the first major UK production to begin rehearsals since theatres went dark in March.

Rehearsals will take place under strict conditions - being carefully choreographed around social distancing, screening, hygiene and personal protection equipment guidelines.

There will be daily reviews of the protection protocol based on practical considerations learnt in the rehearsal room.

Also due to be rehearsed is a production of Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard with McKellen as Firs the elderly manservant - planned to follow Hamlet as part of a memorable season when theatres reopen.

Sean Mathias said: “We walk a tight rope through the forest while we await news of when we may actually perform in front of a live audience, but it will be invigorating to leave the house and get into a rehearsal room and be a part of British theatre returning to the boards.”

Sir Ian said: “I feel lucky to be working again, thanks to Bill Kenwright’s inspiring optimism and Sean Mathias’s invitation to re-examine Hamlet, 50 years on from my first go. So now we will meet again. Don’t know when but do know where – Theatre Royal Windsor.”

Bill Kenwright said: “Sean, Ian and myself have been planning this season for some time now, and the truth is I couldn’t bear to see it slip away.

"Nothing is more important than this country’s and the world’s health and safety, so we are not ready to announce an opening night yet - but I’m a great believer in making a start if a start is possible, and in this instance it is."