The Fan Carpet’s Jen Scouler attended Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet at London’s Barbican | The Fan Carpet Ltd • The Fan Carpet: The RED Carpet for FANS • The Fan Carpet: Fansites Network • The Fan Carpet: Slate • The Fan Carpet: Theatre Spotlight • The Fan Carpet: Arena • The Fan Carpet: International

The Fan Carpet’s Jen Scouler attended Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet at London’s Barbican


06 November 2015

As the long-awaited production of Hamlet starring international heart-throb Benedict Cumberbatch made it’s debut in national cinemas to sell out crowds, The Fan Carpet was there at the continuing live production at the Barbican theatre in London to see it truly lived up to the hype.

After a huge amount of promotion, this adaptation of Hamlet hasn’t had an easy start, with the Barbican coming under some fire for its ticketing techniques. A previously undisclosed ‘preview’ period ran for the production’s first three weeks before a rather late press night, meaning that some found that the play was shaky in its early days. A controversial decision to begin this Hamlet with the famed third act speech of ‘To be or not to be’ was scrapped after a short while, and returned to its rightful place. There were therefore some who, having spent a (not inconsiderable) sum on getting the early tickets, felt misled in being part of an audience for a play still in its testing period.

It’s not difficult to surmise why the Barbican had to make this decision however. Cumberbatch’s fame has exploded in the last few years and he’s currently tied to multiple films and television productions, including Marvel’s Doctor Strange, meaning that a three month run in the theatre perhaps came without much rehearsal time beforehand. However, some honesty from those selling the tickets in regards to this issue might have led to less controversy at the beginning of the run.

Fortunately, as the site’s representative, I chose tickets towards the end of the play’s run and found an inevitably well-polished production. The Barbican also were very strict about no phones and cameras, with many ushers patrolling in order to ensure no one was distracted, an issue that Cumberbatch had pleaded with fans about at the beginning of the run. It was a relief to be honest, and good to know that you weren’t going to find yourself distracted by that one person who just had to work on their Facebook status update at the dramatic culmination of Act Four. If only you could hire out their staff on a busy Saturday night at Cineworld!

 

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The play is directed by Lyndsey Turner, who will be best known to many as the theatre director of the successful play Posh, which was adapted last year into the film The Riot Club. It also features a stellar cast, not just with Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular character but includes screen veteran Ciarin Hinds (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) as Hamlet’s dastardly uncle Claudius and Leo Bill (Mr Turner) as Hamlet’s closest friend Horatio.The cast is impressive, and Hinds in particular is an formidable villain attempting to conceal his guilt.

The story is well known, of course. One of Shakespeare’s best known plays, it follows a young Danish prince’s descent into revenge after the death of his father at the hands of his uncle, who has now gained the crown by marrying his brother’s wife. The titular role has been claimed by so many prestigious actors over the years, from Jude Law to Kenneth Branagh. The Hamlet that I’m personally best familiar with is that of Doctor Who alumni David Tennant’s, whose acclaimed run was re-shot and broadcast on the BBC as a television film. Tennant placed emphasis on comedic and manic energy in his Hamlet and Cumberbatch’s version of the character felt quite different in contrast. Cumberbatch’s Hamlet is first and foremost angry, although still occasionally with the wry wit lent by the script. The heavily debated ‘madness’ that appears to consume Hamlet is in this adaptation a clear construct, but a construct that finds itself overturned by a deep set and uncontrollable fury. Cumberbatch is as electric in person as one could imagine, bellowing his pain into the audience and stopping hearts with an intimidating presence that belies his position as a small figure in the huge space.

One thing that really stood out in this production was the stage design, which was unlike anything I’d ever seen in my experiences as a theatre-goer. It’s hard to convey just the sheer size of the stage, which had been transformed into the huge, multi-layered hall of a palace. The detail was incredible, and an explosive end to the first half transforms it further as the set seems to combust in a storm. On returning after the interval the set is turned into a wrecked shell, without losing any of its grandeur, although inspiring some pity for those who have to tidy the stage up again for the following days production.The design, combined with fantastic lighting and staging techniques, make this a truly cinematic experience, visceral and rich in detail. It should translate well to cinema audiences in a way that sometimes theatre cannot when filmed for the big screen.

 

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My only real issue with the production is the sometimes conflicted use of modern dress. It’s understandable in making the play more accessible, and indeed, today there doesn’t seem much use in putting actors in the costume of Shakespeare’s time when the themes of Hamlet remain as relevant and accessible today. However, it was sometimes inconsistent, with side characters occasionally being dressed in anachronistic costumes that seem to have been borrowed directly from other London productions such as War Horse and Les Miserables, and neither of those plays are set in the modern day. When choosing to set your adaptation in a particular period, I believe the mantra ‘go big or go home’ should apply, as inconsistencies in an approach can stand out like a 16th century Bard perusing Waterstones on a Sunday afternoon.

This long awaited production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is certainly worth seeing for its sheer grandeur and new take on the play. An excellent cast and cinematic techniques will add to its spectacle for those seeing it on the big screen and Benedict Cumberbatch stands up to those critics who were all too ready to be cynical with a new and compelling take on a complex character. If you can still get to those few tickets released daily to see at the Barbican then I would thoroughly recommend being there to absorb the thrilling atmosphere. However for those who can’t, it’s still worth catching it at your local multiplex- if you can find a seat, that is!

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