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Aug 25th, 2015
Mired in early controversy, what with certain newspapers not understanding what a preview period is, and certain overzealous fans invoking the ire of Cumberbatch himself when they didn't follow basic theatre etiquette and refrain from whipping their iPhones in the auditorium, I certainly was not sure what to expect from this ambitious new staging of Shakespeare's most revered tragedy...
I mean, I've never even seen Hamlet before.
I needn't have worried though, Hamletbatch is excellently acted, beautiful and satisfyingly accessible enough for the layman, but self-referential so as not to scare the seasoned Shakespeare fan.
Set in the rich and magnificently gigantic country house of Elsinore designed by Es Devlin, our Hamlet starts the play grieving for his late father to a gramophone accompaniment of Nature Boy by Nat King Cole, before being hailed by Horatio, his friend, played by Leo Bill with ever present charisma and backpack.
Cumberbatch is all at once melancholy and kinetic as the bereaved Prince, he moves fast, he speaks even faster as he strives to understand the circumstances he faces. Seemingly alone in his grief, he chastises his mother, the brilliant Anastasia Hille, for moving on so fast to his tyrannical uncle Claudius (Ciaran Hinds). Hinds starts quietly as the fratricidal King, building on rage and guilt until his oeuvre falls around him.
At the sight of his father in spectral form and his admission of the circumstance of his death, Hamlet decides to feign madness, which yields the best part of Cumberbatch's performance. Manic and hilarious, he becomes an isolated solider in a toy castle, who shows no sign of reproach even when the apocryphal Rosencrantz and Guildernstern (who bear more than a passing resemblance to Simon and Garfunkel in Katrina Lindsay's wonderfully anachronistic costumes) are sent to shake him out of his insanity. His erratic behaviour even manages to make Ophelia (Sian Brooke) seem compos mentis. Brooke is excellently mouselike as the doomed girlfriend. Warned by all the men in her life to leave him alone, she retreats into her own picturesque world, even down to an ever present camera, as if we can really see what she sees.
Better paced is the second act, the stage covered in debris and Hamlet away to England after killing Polonoious, (the fine tuned Jim Norton.) As he returns to Demark he is faced with the death of Ophelia, (shoutout to the hilarious gravediggers) maniacal, riled with guilt and lust for revenge multiplied, Cumberbatch heads toward the final crescendo with aplomb, shaking off the spoilt boy Prince and heading to his death (this play is like 500 years old, get over it) as he duels Laertes and finally confronts his Uncle. But it is over almost far too quickly, and with hearts beating fast, not for the heartthrob but for the show, the audience gave both the former and the latter a well deserved standing ovation.
All in all, this production has met with such consternation and intrigue, with the seasoned critics calling out Lyndsey Turner for various reasons, but as a Hamlet virgin, I thought it was pretty darn incredible, if not a touch too long in the first half. If theatres want to court new, younger audiences, then they must look to the Barbican for an example of how to do it, and not listen to moaning about what bit goes where and whose credentials are more acceptable than others to the old guard.
Great night out for?
A Cumberperson. Preferably with a strong bladder.
Recommend to friends?
Yes, first time Hamletees like myself.
Sian Brooke's Ophelia giving everyone flowers.
Morning after effect?
Can Katrina Lindsay design all my clothes?
By Kitty McCarron @ThisisKittyMac
View our show pages for more information about Hamlet, Barbican Theatre.
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