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  • As Benedict Cumberbatch takes on the mantle of the Prince of Denmark, does he make a great Dane or a passably good one? That is the question, and as the star turn, he is certainly the brightest thing about this production.

    It must be tricky to bring freshness to lines so familiar they have almost become clichéd, but this sweet Prince does his level-headed best, causing hearts to melt at the "Oh, too solid flesh", jumping on tables and shrugging off the slings and arrows of the less enthusiastic reviews.

    Director Lyndsey Turner aims to shed new light on Hamlet's soliloquies by having the rest of the cast move in slow motion around him, a device used most effectively at the wedding feast, when Hamlet's regal mother Gertrude (Anastasia Hille) marries his scheming Uncle Claudius (Ciaran Hinds).

    All the complex emotions running through Hamlet's mind are voiced in the time it takes the guests to rise from their seats and turn away from him, oblivious to his inner anguish.

    The set by Es Devlin is in the style of a sumptuous stately home, dominated by a huge chandelier and grand piano, walls covered in family portraits and an armoury of weapons. A rocking horse, doll's house and other toys lie hidden in the stairwell, mourning an innocence lost, as a grown man must put away childish things.

    Faced with his father's ghost and his mother's betrayal of her late husband's memory, Hamlet feigns madness and embraces his inner child, who comes out to play in a scene with toy soldiers and a castle.

    The flashes of humour provide welcome light relief from the sense of impending doom which pervades the play, underlined by a musical score which is at times rather heavy-handed. Karl Johnson brings gallows humour to the role of grave digger and Polonius (Jim Norton) cuts a tragi-comic figure destined for an unfortunate end.

    Ophelia (Sian Brooke) is highly strung from the start, which lends psychological depth to her subsequent breakdown, but leaves little room for a greater contrast in her moods, with barely a hint of the happier times which had gone before.

    She finds comfort only in music, that lightning conductor of emotions, singing sweet songs in the purest tones, and playing a moving piano duet with her volatile-tempered brother Laertes (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith). In a world full of deception, music is the sole form of expression which strikes a true note.

    Most of the cast deliver their lines with clarity and conviction, but a few tend to rush their words at times, perhaps aiming to keep within a performance time of three hours, but making their speeches harder to follow. Dismissed by some reviewers as a dumbed-down version, this production changes the order of the original text and may not please the purists.

    This is a performance for people who come along to see TV's Sherlock in action, and end up getting what the Bard is all about. This is for families bringing children who have only ever experienced Shakespeare in the confines of a classroom, and are hearing the lines brought to life on stage for the first time.

    If making Shakespeare accessible to a wider audience is the main aim, this NT Live production, broadcast live in cinemas worldwide, is certainly a success.
  • Between its sold-out London run and last night's worldwide broadcasts a lot of people are going to see this production. I'm very happy about that because I think it deserves the attention. Hamlet is a play that brings out the best in performers who are up to the task and producers who get lucky and manage to pull it all together, and I think that's happening here.

    I like the Gothic concept of a one-set Hamlet that takes place in a haunted palace. I like the emphasis on how young and vulnerable Ophelia and Hamlet and his college friends are (perfectly costumed btw--Horatio even wears an Army surplus backpack!), making Ciaran Hinds' minotaur Claudius seem even more menacing. Even the best of Hamlets usually feel like an ordeal that leaves you exhausted at the end so I enjoyed the shape and pacing of this version, which focuses on telling the exciting and moving story rather than setting up platforms for the primary actors to deliver all those famous speeches. An actor less modest than Benedict might have kicked at that but as a star who emerged in the midst of two great ensemble casts in "Sherlock" and "Frankenstein," he plays his part without any highlighting and to me his Hamlet is stronger for it.

    Benedict's Hamlet reminds me of Holden Caulfield's critique of Olivier playing the character too much like a general when he's really supposed to be just a sad, messed-up guy. Ben plays Hamlet's grief and confusion, his frustration at being too young to be taken seriously and his determination to find a way to do the right thing in an insane situation. So he's both sad guy and general, and it fits just right.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch asked Lyndsey Turner to direct his "Hamlet," the most talked-about production of the London 2014-2015 season. A live performance was filmed and shows up in movie theaters as part of the National Theatre Live broadcasts.

    This is its third time being shown in theaters across America; the reason for that is that it's the most successful of the series. 200,000 people saw the first showing. Cumberbatch in "Frankenstein" often returns as well. So we know who the draw is, and why it sold out in London even faster than Beyonce and JayZ.

    There is no correct interpretation of Hamlet, there is only what you prefer. I have seen this production three times - once in London and twice in the Royal National streaming. I've seen Ralph Fiennes, Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, and Michael Benz all take on the Bard. Michael Benz appeared with five other people on a bare stage for one of the best Hamlet productions I've ever seen. It certainly mined all the tremendous humor, was devoid of angst, and had a very young Hamlet who saw getting the "conscience of a king" as an adventure.

    If that production with Benz proved anything, it was that you can do Hamlet successfully with a chair rather than the huge, dark set used in the Barbican production.

    To say that this Hamlet was overblown, badly cut, and poorly directed are all understatements. Why Cumberbatch asked for Turner is an unknown. The play was cut so that he was isolated from the rest of the cast most of the time, so, though he was brilliant, athletic, and passionate, we really didn't get to see much interplay with other characters. The result? We lost part of what would have been an even more phenomenal performance.

    Someone here posted that Cumberbatch ran a close second to Richard Chamberlain, whom I also saw as Hamlet in another cut version. To me there is no comparison. My acting teacher used to say that you have to play a part and not become too generalized in your choices. Seeing Chamberlain on stage, though I like him and grew up watching him, he is too generic in his choices. Cumberbatch never generalizes; he is always on point with the character he is playing.

    The other problem with the production was that it was hard to tell what the time period was - Hamlet always seemed modern, Gertrude like something out of the 1940s, and her husband (Ciaran Hinds) Edwardian. Horatio (Leo Bill) had tattoos on every part of his body.

    Other than Cumberbatch, the acting was so-so. The actress playing Ophelia (Sian Brooke) was annoying, which probably had to do with the way the role was cut, and, in her hysteria, hard to understand. Jim Norton was a good Polonius, and Karl Johnson as Hamlet's father's ghost and the Gravedigger was excellent. Ciaran Hinds and Anastasia Hille as Claudius and Gertrude turned in good performances.

    Seeing this on screen is actually better than seeing it in the play because while Turner had no idea where the focus was supposed to be on the stage, the cameraman did. And sorry, but whose idea was it during the tell-all play to have Claudius with his back to the audience? Great way to see his reaction.

    Sadly, Morag Siller, who played Voltemand, died six months after the end of this production, at the age of 46.

    If it comes to your neighborhood, definitely see it for Cumberbatch - to hear Hamlet spoken in that voice is a wonder indeed.
  • Avwillfan8920 October 2015
    Warning: Spoilers
    This hugely anticipated broadcast opens with Hamlet sitting by a chest of clothes listening to Nat King Cole's Nature Boy on a small phonograph, in mourning for his father. This is complicated even further by the fact that his mother married his uncle in less than a month after his death.

    Speaking to Horatio and then delivering his first soliloquy, Benedict's Hamlet is a grief-stricken child who has lost his innocence. His eyes are full of tears, which stream down and mingle with sweat, his hand shakes and his voice breaks as he speaks. I was completely hypnotized. Putting all of that real emotion into a performance, on stage or on screen, a method of acting called "in the moment", is something all actors should follow, in my opinion.

    Hamlet then meets his father's ghost, who tells him that his uncle Claudius murdered him for the throne. This is the moment where he supposedly goes mad. However, it is very clear in this production that he is simply faking it for others to see. Benedict demonstrates his comedic skills in the scene where he dresses up as a toy soldier, strutting wildly across the room, feigning madness in front of Polonius, before succumbing to sadness once he leaves. This is when the famous To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy comes to light. The "Get Thee To a Nunnery" scene was rushed and didn't linger too much on the extreme harshness of the words.

    Benedict's Hamlet is very easy to root for, despite the many crimes he commits, such his cruelty to his mother Gertrude and Ophelia, and the killing of Polonius, and subsequently driving Ophelia mad. The profound misogyny demonstrated by Hamlet is somewhat spirited away by his faked madness. This and other confrontational acts are not as physically demonstrated like in many other productions.

    Now for the rest of the cast, they all did pretty well. Sian Brooke as Ophelia was the perfect portrayal of a delicate innocence destroyed by the senseless (and unexpected) murder of her father. She shines brilliantly in the second half when she goes mad; she has patches of bald on her head, she cries while singing, and her mental instability is also physical, as she walks with a limp across the stage. Anastasia Hille as Gertrude was also incredibly amazing, and her speech to Laertes about the accidental (or suicidal) drowning of his sister Ophelia is heart-breaking.

    I didn't get emotional at the action-packed tragic ending, because I knew already what was to come.

    Whenever I watch a version of Hamlet, I'm reminded of course, by The Lion King, which was loosely based on the play. Claudius is Scar, by comparison, though in this play, he is not as evil, regretting his crimes a little.

    Another thing I enjoyed the most in this production is the use of slow motion by the actors. When Hamlet delivers a speech during a dinner at the beginning, the rest of the actors carry on slowly in the darkened background.

    The set was absolutely beautiful, making use of a chandelier at the beginning and then reducing part of the set in ashes and dust by the second half.

    All in all I was utterly blown away by the play. I had once before seen only Kenneth Branagh's four-hour cinema version of it, and I must say it fails in comparison to Lyndsey Turner's shortened and modernized version.

    After the whole cast took their bows, Benedict took a moment to urge the audience to donate money to the Save The Children foundation, to aid the refugee crises. It's yet another reminder that the actor is completely selfless and wants to use his fame to highlight important and tragic issues going on in the world. It was an unforgettable experience. Too bad I can only see it once.
  • Once more a thrilling and intense performance from Cumberbatch. A perfect reincarnation of the master of theater, amazingly performed by an impressively convincing cast. A fantastic immersion from all the actors and for every audience. An absolute must-see for any amateur of Shakespeare.
  • I just returned from the NTLive "Hamlet" production starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It was an enjoyable experience that I can recommend to any Shakespeare fan. But while it was good, it was not great. Speeches were rearranged, certain words were "updated", and the production was generally too shouty and melodramatic to convey the proper poetry and pensiveness of Shakespeare's text.

    There were some good ideas and also some less good ideas, and as a whole the impression was not as professional and tight as are the productions that the Royal Shakespeare Company presides over. The actors made several small mistakes here and there, and it was not always clear whether a changed word was intentional or just misspeaking. Some words were intentionally changed; "yeoman service" had become "faithful service" and "as for my means, I shall husband them" had become "as for my men, I shall marshal them". There were maybe a dozen instances like this (oh yes, I remember one more: when Hamlet talks to his mother, and Shakespeare writes "I the matter will reword, which madness would gambol from", Cumberbatch says "I the matter will repeat, which madness would fly from" - decidedly less literary!), and it doesn't make sense to me to make such minor changes. After all, it's not like there are great numbers of audiences who will suddenly understand the play much better based on about a dozen changed words in a furiously paced three-hour production. To my mind, it's better to retain Shakespeare's words (the text cannot be improved upon, and it's a fool's errand to try), and make audiences wonder about them and perhaps want to look them up, rather than to try with such half-hearted efforts to "help" people understand it more immediately.

    One of the best things about the production was the role of the Danish tin soldier that Hamlet took on to demonstrate his madness. He dressed up, played the drum and ensconced himself in a toy castle, which I thought was a great way to bring out his "antic disposition".

    But overall, Cumberbatch's acting seemed rather too hot-headed and raving to put across any particularly memorable or sensitive portrayal of the title character. The climactic duel scene was also a bit messy and strange, landing this production on 7 stars out of 10 in my estimation.
  • This is such an overwhelmingly physical production, and so totally enjoyable, that I am forced to give it a 9 rating despite its many lapses. First of all, I am so sick and tired of seeing plays and operas updated to make them more 'relevant' to their audiences. There is nothing in HAMLET that could possibly be 20th century in nature (except the characters' feelings, which are both universal and timeless), but we start out with Hamlet listening to "Nature Boy" on a small, portable phonograph. Oh, one thinks, this one is going to take place in 1950 in that most ancient of Danish cities, Cleveland. But, immediately, on come the other characters, and while Horatio is sporting a backpack indicating a later era (they weren't really much in general use in 1950, except in the military and with mountain climbers), the ladies in the cast seem to be wearing costumes right out of the 1890s, and when Claudius enters, he looks like he's wearing something between an Edwardian suit with a military sash across it and something the butler forgot to take to the cleaners that day. So when DOES it take place? And why not in approximately 1100AD? Answer: Because then you wouldn't be able to play "Nature Boy" on the toy phonograph. I just don't get it. (Later on, the Gravedigger is mouthing the words to another old popular song. Why?) Timelines aside, the production is terrific, though, and some of the scene changes - like the one that goes from the banquet hall to the bringing on of the Ghost - were incredibly effective. As for the acting, which is what HAMLET is all about for most of us, while some of the accents clashed a bit - Horatio both sounds and looks like he just arrived from the East End, so how did he become such fast friends with Hamlet, who sounds of the Upper Crust, as does his mother Gertrude, while Claudius sounds not only American, but very much like Al Pacino playing Al Pacino (he doesn't sound the least bit kingly, but could pass for another leader - Al Capone) - there was not a weak link in the cast. Cumberbatch is not only terrific throughout, he is probably the most intensely physical Hamlet I've ever seen; I can't imagine how he could deliver this kind of show several times a week without going into cardiac arrest. Outside of Cumberbatch, and Ciaran Hinds as Claudius, the actors will not be that well-known to movie-goers, but Anastasia Hille as Gertrude and Jim Norton as Polonius are about as good as any actors I have seen in these roles, Hille's surprising physicality almost equaling her son's in their great confrontation scene, and Norton extremely funny. I've seen about a dozen, maybe fifteen, Hamlets in my lifetime, and surprisingly perhaps, the overall best one to me - looks, passion, delivery, etc. - wasn't Olivier or Branagh or any other noted Shakespearean, but Richard Chamberlain, who actually achieved notable success in the role both here and in England about 40 years back; Cumberbatch, on average, runs him a close second. This version has a lot of cuts, some unfortunate, some not so; it has lines transposed (indeed, whole speeches removed or transposed), and changes in dialogue from what appears to be a HAMLET FOR DUMMIES guide, but they are not insulting to those of us who love this play, only a bit disconcerting at times. Still, I really do wish we could continue to see plays and operas in the time period they are supposed to take place in. RICHARD III in the Nazi era was bad enough, but HAMLET in Motown? I think not. Still, this was a very exciting theatrical experience, which should be recommendation enough for it these days.
  • Lolinaoli180417 April 2020
    10/10
    Hamlet
    "Listen to many, speak to a few." ..

    Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love."
  • Once upon a time people started to like theatre again. In our days we can see real theatre in cinemas. British spectaculars with famous actors. What could be better? Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch become new experience for me. Good old tragedy of Shakespeare is actualized by modern suits but original text is like in old times. There're a lot of decorations but stage lighting is too dark. Because of it spectacular makes feeling of a very minimalistic staging. It gives a chance to Benedict Cumberbatch to jump through a fire ring with "to be or not to be". And Cumberbatch is still most famous british actor of our days. Robin Lough in his spectacular uses minimalistic entourage very carefully with hard metaphores. Robin plays with Shakespeare in Time. Time is spending, books becames older but Wiiliam is eternity
  • One can see why 'Hamlet' is one of Shakespeare's best known and acclaimed plays with such memorable characters, some of the most deservedly famous in all literature, and text often quoted and referenced. It is long and not easy to perform at all, but the characterisation, language and complex emotions and psychology have always riveted me and it has always been one of my favourites from Shakespeare.

    Despite liking Benedict Cumberbatch very much as an actor and really looking forward to seeing what he would do to this challenging part, and also finding most of the performances good, this production considering how highly anticipated it was (when it came out and to me) should have been much better. Although there were a fair number of issues with the previous National Theatre Live production of 'Hamlet', which had staging misjudgments (especially Orphelia), a too dominant oppressive theme and didn't appeal visually, it also boasted a superb Rory Kinnear, was a production that understood the character of Polonius, great staging of the Mousetrap scene and the psychology of the characters was right on.

    For me, this 2015 production was a case of having a lot of style but was lacking in the depth and it also felt overblown in staging to me and under-explored in characterisation. Am aware that this is unlikely to be a popular review and honestly wanted to be more positive and give it a higher rating, but regrettably can't.

    The mixed rating is namely for the performances. Cumberbatch is the main reason to see the production, he is utterly compelling throughout in every way and makes Hamlet a flawed character but worth identifying with. Of the actors too, although the cast do do very well all things considered, Cumberbatch is the only one to really get under the skin of the role and in a way where the viewer understands Hamlet and how and why he came to be and behave the way he does. Leo Bill is one of the better Horatios seen in a while, not making the character too sympathetic, and one can see in the performance of Jim Norton how Polonius represents one of the main themes of 'Hamlet' of appearance and reality contrasting.

    Sian Brooke is a poignant Orphelia and her anxious state of mind in her later scenes is believable without being over-the-top, this production doesn't go too far with this role in the way the Kinnear 'Hamlet' did. Ciaran Hinds doesn't ennoble or humanise Claudius too much and is repellent enough, if not as serpentine as Patrick Malahide in the earlier National Theatre Live production. Anastasia Hille does wonders with Gertrude, making her a conflicted character and Karl Johnson is spooky as the ghost.

    It is a good-looking production, though in the sets more than anything else. The sets are beautifully designed and a lot of effort went into them. The lighting is also atmospheric. Was a little more mixed on the costumes but they looked good at least. The gale-driven torrent of leaves touch was effective and Orphelia's demise was intriguing to say the least, different but not pointlessly so like the previous NTL 'Hamlet' performance.

    On the other hand, there could have been much more of a sense of time and place, the period didn't come over as very obvious to me. The costumes looked good but stylistically were too much of a mishmash of periods. There is a distracting overuse of freeze frames and slow motion that come over as gimmicky and actually affect the production's momentum.

    Where this 'Hamlet' significantly falls down is in the stage direction, which takes the opening up of the drama too literally and feels overblown and cluttered, appreciate that it didn't come over as stagy but this was too much. With a lot of staging touches that detract from the drama rather than enhance, didn't even see the point of a lot of them. Have not seen the play scene this ineptly staged, one doesn't even really get what the scene is about and what is meant to be happening and that is a worrying sign. The cuts give the production a choppy feel and affects the coherence as well.

    Character relationships are badly under-explored, a prime example being between Claudius and Gertrude, the psychology of the characters is vague and lacks complexity and the emotional impact is just not there and like the crew were more pre-occupied with the staging touches and how the production looks, with the general lack of depth when it came to the substance this left me cold.

    Altogether, worth a look for Cumberbatch primarily but disappointing. 5/10
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This was one of the most heavily edited versions of "Hamlet" I have ever seen. Scenes were moved around, and dialogue from some characters were moved to other characters. I have read that in early performances of this production, the play started out with the "To be or not to be" monologue, but too many people protested, so they moved it, but they did not move it to the place it is in the second quarto and the first folio. (I cannot remember off the top of my head where it is in the first quarto.) In this production, they move it to after Hamlet's fist confrontation with Polonius. (Does that need a spoiler alert?) Cumberbatch played the character as more angry than sorrowful. Maybe that's why I was entertained, but not moved, by his performance.
  • No one who knows Shakespeare's great play and is not besotted with the most recent idol Mr. Cumberbatch or what passes for creativity on the stage (even after decades of such nonsense) could think this most pretentious of productions worth seeing for anyone. Young students will get only a false idea of the play and of what theater can be; readers of Shakespeare will be appalled, disgusted, etc.; and devotees of such theatrical drivel need no encouragement.

    Of course, Cumberbatch's fans will not notice or care about the production's absurdities, and, in fact, Cumberbatch is a good actor. He has some trouble with Shakespeare's syntax here and there: "It is not-- nor it cannot come to--good"; Foul deeds will rise--though all the world o'erwhelm them--to men's eyes." That's how the lines are supposed to be read, but I don't blame Cumberbatch for not knowing this. Doesn't the National Theatre have anyone on its payroll who can recognize and correct such errors? It makes one realize the value of diagramming sentences. Perhaps the person responsible for such matters was employed instead to sweep away all the mulch after each performance.

    Did I mention mulch? Yes, there was mulch--tons of mulch. After the intermission, we see the interior scene on the stage has been covered with mulch. Ophelia must even wipe it off the piano on which she accompanies herself for one of her songs. In this respect, however, Ophelia seems less crazy than the rest of the characters, who never seem to notice that all of this mulch has invaded the living room. Perhaps leaky walls or broken windows after a severe storm? Perhaps a terribly mistaken delivery that was actually meant for the gardens? Who knows?

    What is even more amusing that the patent ridiculousness of what the director no doubt meant and some in the audience will see as a profound and even sublime metaphor for the world of the play is the amazing lack of self-awareness in making this decision, for mulch is the perfect metadramatic metaphor for this production. What is mulch but the ground-up remains of what was once living? And mulch is exactly what "Hamlet" becomes after this production has put it through a grinder, discarded half the results, assigned many of the remaining lines to characters for whom Shakespeare did not write them, abandoning Shakespeare's very words when they presumably (since I could discern no consistency in their decisions from one instance to the next) thought the audience wouldn't be able to understand them.

    And the poor actors! Like the characters who must pretend the mulch is not in the living room, they must valiantly carry on in this debacle of a production. I feel sorry for them all, except perhaps Cumberbatch. If he were a serious Shakespearean actor devoted to the plays and the language, he could have leveraged his star power, which was undoubtedly responsible for the production's financial success, to insist on an approach that might have at least offered him the chance to argue for his place among the best Hamlets. Instead, we have yet another instance of, as Maynard Mack, quoting Robert Frost's "Oven Bird," says of such productions, "what to make of a diminished thing?" For this particular production, one might also add from the same poem: "The highway dust is over all." What a wasted opportunity.