Theatre Review: Hamlet, The Barbican *****

I’ve always thought that Hamlet was one of the better known of Shakespeare’s plays. I was pretty sure that almost everyone knew the tragic tale of the Prince of Denmark. Not so, judging by the people sitting around me watching this production. The middle aged Cumber-bitches sitting behind me swigging wine were clearly quite shocked that it didn’t have a happy ending. Sorry – Spoiler Alert!

I last saw Benedict Cumberbatch on stage in Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein and that was easily the best play of that year in London’s West End. It was always going to be interesting to see how he would fare in one of the most performed Shakespearean tragedies.

My OH always finds Hamlet a bit annoying feeling like the best part of the action has already taken place before you get to join the party in Elsinore. In this production the staging is wonderful with the early wedding banquet scenes set in a bright and prosperous home with chandeliers and draped flowers. As the action progresses the set becomes darker and more run down. By the end the stage is covered in earth and debris as the set reflects what is happening in the play.

This particular version lends more credence to the feeling that much of the responsibility for what happens lies with Hamlet and his downward spiral into madness. Here Ophelia is an elfin brunette more like Alice from Twilight than the red headed beauty envisaged by John Everett Millais. In the first half she is a quiet soul fearful for Hamlet but keen to please her father. In the second half Sian Brooke comes into her own with a pitiful rendition of Ophelia’s rhymes and songs as she sits at a piano and stares into space. So moving that the guy two seats away from me spent most of the second act in tears.

Hamlet dressed as a soldier playing in a giant fort with three life size toy soldiers was particularly poignant. At this point I’d stopped thinking about the language and just found myself totally engrossed in the story. Cumberbatch was totally believable as his mental health deteriorated. Walking around the stage in an Aladdin Sane t-shirt ( A Lad Insane) and then in a jacket graffitied with the word “King” it all felt so perfectly schizophrenic.

A fantastic production. If you get a chance to see it at your local cinema as part of the NT Live programme don’t hesitate to go. It will be the best three hours you spend there.

Runs 05/08/15 – 31/10/15

Cast:

Danish Soldier / Norwegian Soldier:Barry Aird
Captain / Servant:Eddie Arnold
Horatio:Leo Bill
Ophelia:Sian Brooke
Cornelius:Nigel Carrington
Player King:Ruairi Conaghan
Hamlet:Benedict Cumberbatch
Guildenstern:Rudi Dharmalingam
Priest / Messenger:Colin Haigh
Fencing Official:Paul Ham
Player Queen / Messenger:Diveen Henry
Gertrude:Anastasia Hille
Claudius:Ciarán Hinds
Laertes:Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
Ghost / Gravedigger:Karl Johnson
Polonius:Jim Norton
Stage Manager / Official:Amaka Okafor
Barnardo:Dan Parr
Courtier:Jan Sheperd
Voltemand:Morag Siller
Rosencrantz:Matthew Steer
Fortinbras:Sergo Vares
Marcellus:Dwane Walcott

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