Hamlet Barbican: Benedict Cumberbatch. Review.

I count myself very lucky to have seen this play with a few of my (new) friends, and to have had a seat in the front row.  The 26th of October 2015 was a glorious evening.  Thanks to the power of the internet, not only was it an evening out with some home-grown culture, but it afforded an occasion to meet up with some people to whom I’ve been talking for a number of years – but had never met face to face.  Now we have!  This production has brought together people with similar interests from all over the globe.  That’s a triumph in and of itself!

Now: the play.  Throughout, I marvelled at the set design.  Both simple, and intricate.  Beautiful and tragic.  It enhanced the story, and was both part of the action and a metaphor for the disintegrating state of the minds of the characters.  Not quite contemporary, not quite traditional.  The mix of the fashions, the soldiers’ uniforms, formal attire, and casual clothing, created a universal time-period in which the story unfolded.  It may have looked like madness, but there be method in it!

I was not overly familiar with Hamlet – I couldn’t quote much, or remember in what order the events occur.  The slight rearrangement of the scenes created a fresh vision of the material.  Even if you did know the play well, this version would have been a little bit new to you.  I think this was a fun way to make sure the audience paid attention!  Another very clever device used was in the way Hamlet’s soliloquies were delivered.  These speeches are basically a glimpse inside the mind of Hamlet.  He’s more thinking these words in his head, rather than speaking them to another character, or indeed the audience.  Here the foreground focused on Hamlet, in the background the lights were dimmed, and the action of the other players continued.. but in slow motion.  Very effective, and beautiful.

So, to the performances.  I’m already biased when it comes to Benedict Cumberbatch.. so I’ll just say he was brilliant!  His descent into “madness”, introspection, and cutting remarks to Ophelia and others were felt deeply from the front row, to the back.  Brilliant (I’ve said that, I know.  I’m saying it again!).  Siân Brooke was outstanding as Ophelia.  As she developed from a naive young woman in love; led on by Hamlet, and her own parents, you could feel the heartbreak oozing off the stage as her world fell apart.  Similarly, Anastasia Hille brought a sense of strength to Gertrude the Queen, which was ripped away from her as the truth of her marriage to Claudius, played by Ciarán Hinds, and his betrayal is revealed later on.  As Claudius realises that his treachery will be his own undoing, that is when the proverbial excrement hits the fan.. or in our case a ton of bits of black paper…!  Hinds was excellent in showing (and indeed hiding) the duplicity of his character.

The run at the Barbican is now sadly finished.  From me, a round of applause to all involved.  A special mention to the Director Lyndsey Turner, who brought this incredible production to life.  It was a delightful evening’s entertainment.