Without a doubt, the Barbican’s production of Hamlet has undoubtedly been the most hyped new production we have seen in years. Whether it be the vastly successful production team who have put the play together – they possess four Olivier Awards and two Tony Awards, not to mention an Ivor Novello nomination and an OBE – or the world-star status of the Hamlet himself, Benedict Cumberbatch.
However, as often it can be perceived, the hype surrounding a production can doom it to an ultimately disappointing finish. The trouble with this production of Hamlet is that, bar the exceptional performance of Cumberbatch, the production simply offers nothing of any consequence.
The resonance of Cumberbatch’s voice is perfect for Hamlet, especially within the famous “To be or not to be” which, thankfully, is no longer used to open the play. His physicality is great for presenting humour in what is often billed as Shakespeare’s greatest tragic play.
Yet, despite the Olivier winning and Oscar nominated actor’s best efforts, Cumberbatch is doomed by the ridiculous direction of Lyndsey Turner. At times, she has her star parading across the stage in a scarlet tunic and hat, before him later hiding from his friends Rosencrantz (Matthew Steer) and Guildenstern (Rudi Dharmalingam) in a toy castle as if childlike, rather than haunted by the murder of his father and the rejected love of Ophelia.
Es Devlin’s set design was characteristically grand, yet her design for the house of Hamlet seemed almost too much for the piece. The fact that portions of the stage – and thus the actors – were completely out of view cemented the irony of the claim of ‘accessible theatre’. Coupled with Luke Halls’ seemingly random periods of video and Jon Hopkins’ music, the overall vision of the piece seemed to depict some of the nation’s best creatives each competing with one another to put their own unique stamp on what culminated in being a rather redundant and noncommittal version of Hamlet.
Siân Brooke’s Ophelia seemed misguided and really offered very little. Ciarán Hinds as Claudius only really impressed with his monologue at the end of the third Act, and otherwise seemed lost, as did his new found wife Gertrude (Anastasia Hille). Leo Bill’s Horatio was interesting and, perhaps, the only worthy performance bar that of Cumberbatch.
The real tragedy in this production of Hamlet is that it doesn’t work. The production favours vast and extreme visuals rather than allowing the narrative and emotional qualities, which have given Shakespeare’s play the irrefutable reputation it possesses, to flow.
Hamlet is running at the Barbican until the 31st of October. The entire run is sold out; however, 30 day tickets are available at £10 from the Barbican box office from 10.30AM each day.