Theatre: Hamlet at the Barbican (London)

I know it's something of a cliché to say Hamlet is your favorite Shakespeare play, but for me it is absolutely true. I'm original in a lot of ways, but in this one thing I am like so many others. I have performed, taught, and seen Hamlet so many times I can't even count, and I'm as like as anything to quote the play on almost a daily basis, or at least think the lines! Hamlet has a workable quote for just about anything.

As for this particular production, there is much good to be said of it. The set and production design blew me away. Just beautifully done. And it's an interesting choice to bring the time period into a sort of 1930s or 40s feel. Lends itself to nice costuming.

Edits to the original text . . . seem designed to give the fangirl audience more of what they came to see. I could do an entire other essay on celebrity in theatre, but I'll refrain from it here except to say that some of the choices for this production appeared to have been made to maximize Cumberbatch's time on stage and allow him to chew as much scenery as possible. For example, they've chosen to start the play with Hamlet on stage and have given him the famous first line of "Who's there?" They also have Hamlet play Lucianus. The soliloquies are literally spotlighted. And there are some moments that are just too, for lack of a better word, precious.

Still, none of this detracted from my overall enjoyment. Director Lydsey Turner has made some other interesting choices. The slow motion moments that occur when Hamlet is soliloquizing—things like that always make me think of the effort the actors are putting in. Hamlet's sense of humor has likewise been punched up (and Polonius' somewhat blunted, again allowing Cumberbatch to play to his audience). I will say that making so much of the soliloquies—the slo-mo, the spotlights—brings to the fore just how many there are. For the first time ever, in my long history of Hamlet, I was like, "Oh, really? Again?"

I was actually most impressed with Ciarán Hinds as Claudius. He conveys the idea of seething rage just under the surface very well, balancing it with false obsequiousness. Instead of fawning over Gertrude, he becomes sharp with her; even in moments when he's being kind (or pretending to be), there is a sense of his power and short temper. Siân Brooke as Ophelia was, for me, the weakest point, and I feel like Gertrude was given short shrift in this version, though Anastasia Hille was magnificent with the material she was given.

There are things about Hamlet in general (not specific to this production) that have long made me wonder . . . Like the fact Gertrude can give a detailed account of Ophelia's drowning and yet no one seems to have tried to save Ophelia. Someone saw it, right? That's how they know how it happened? Either Gertrude was there, or someone reported it to her, but either way . . . Why didn't anyone go fish her out of the brook? (I recently read a take that suggests Gertrude actually murders Ophelia, which is an interesting idea.) And Hamlet, for all his seeming introspection, doesn't appear to have a good sense of how his actions affect others. "Laertes is home? Why? And why is he so mad at me?" Um . . .

But anyway. It was a fine show. Definitely interesting and beautifully staged. I feel fortunate to have seen in live, but there will be a filmed broadcast on October 15. You can visit this site to see if it will be playing near you. (Look to the right column.)

Look, Benedict, I love you (I hope you know that), and maybe that's all you want out of life and your career—for people to love you. In which case you can pack up and go home because you've achieved that much. I see you are at least doing your best to leverage your popularity toward worthy causes, but Rob [Thomas] has done it better. Get organized about it if you want to make a real difference. As for your Hamlet, well, it was fine, though hardly groundbreaking. Maybe it's impossible to bring anything new to such an old  and worn role. I would suggest, instead of playing parts that have already been done so many times by so many people (Holmes, Hamlet), and instead of pretending to be other people who've already lived (Assange, Turing), you find something truly unique and make it your own.

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