I would just like to point out that this is my thoughts on the first preview (Wednesday 5th August) of the production and I’m aware that things may have changed since I have been to see it. I would also like to say these are impressions rather than an official review (I tried for tickets for press night but sadly the allocation was all filled up – sad times).
The most eagerly anticipated theatre production of 2015 (I still can’t believe that I managed to get tickets for it!) the Barbican’s production of Hamlet is certainly worth waiting for.
Although initially the stage is quite contained and not spacious, to allow the audience to focus on Hamlet’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) opening speech (now apparently changed – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-33995553), the audience is soon wowed by the space that is revealed in the next scene.
The majority of the production is set in a grand, spacious and beautifully designed hall (thanks to Es Devlin) and allows the action have enough space to breath by using every inch of space possible.
There is plenty of energy and pace throughout, with the entire cast throwing absolutely everything that they have into their performances. But also rather surprisingly there are some brilliant humorous moments as well. For example the scene where Hamlet is dressed as a toy soldier and marching up and down the table is the closest thing that I have seen Cumberbatch doing comedy.
So what of the performances? The strength of Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance comes from the way in which he is able to find new depths to the character. From the start we see the way in which the grief is affecting him psychologically and his anger and frustration that he has to do what he eventually does: getting revenge on his father’s murderer. His ability to change moods in a second is astonishing.
But there are also other extremely powerful and moving performances that stand out. Sian Brooke’s performance as Ophelia was both emotional and beautiful to watch. The way in which she grieves for her father is shocking to watch and when you hear of her death, you would have to have a heart of stone not to be emotionally involved with what is happening (or like me moved to tears!).
I also admired Leo Bill’s performance as Hamlet’s loyal friend and companion Horatio. Despite everything that Hamlet does – he is loyal to him to at the end and is solid support for both the character and for Cumberbatch himself.
If there was one minor complaint to make about this particular performance (this will probably have been changed by now) it felt that the first half was extremely long and the attention does begin to wonder a little bit but that of course could have been adapted by now. I also felt that the ending was maybe a bit too abrupt and unexpected, that there didn’t seem to be much of a climax to proceedings.
But there is brilliant build up of tension throughout, thanks to the use of extremely atmospheric music (Jon Hopkins) and lighting (Jane Cox) that left me with goosebumps throughout. It really focuses on the psychological side of the play and Lyndsey Turner was the perfect choice to direct.
It is an extremely strong production and I urge as many people to see it – even if not in person but watching the cinema screening (15th October). Strong cast, strong play, strong creative team – what is there not to like?