THEATRE REVIEW: Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch


WHERE: Barbican

WHEN: 5/8 runs to 31/10

‘F**k!’ A stage manager has just told an exasperated Cumberbatch that tonight’s production must be halted an hour or so in because of a faulty trap door. Hamlet’s just been visited by the ghost of his father and his out-of-character expletive says it all.

There’s restlessness, not least because this is the second time the production’s been halted tonight, and Cumberbatch emerges into the audience at the front of the stalls to apologise and thank us for our patience.

Reviewing previews has drawn criticism and here are clear examples where the complications of the show mean its production is not running as smoothly as it should be. Sound problems meant it opened for the first time with Hamlet leafing through old possessions and listening to a gramophone which should have been playing Nat King Cole’s (also sung by Tony Bennett) Greatest Thing. (‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return’).

The security curtain goes up, the scene is revealed and then the curtain comes down without a word being spoken. There is a ripple of ironic applause and a touch of laughter from the audience who wonders whether it’s just seen the shortest version known of Hamlet.

The second stop is more problematic. At first we thought a crazed fan (albeit one with a walkie talkie and bottle of water) had invaded the stage but we’ve never seen a production stop in that way before. The stage manager speaks to Cumberbatch, walks centre stage and tells us calmly what is happening. The security curtain comes down again.

Cumberbatch is playing his Hamlet mad and the perhaps over elaborate staging leaves us in no doubt: at one stage he is mock shooting at strangers from a mini fort surrounded by giant soldier toys. It is role he is clearly relishing and one, no doubt, he will grow into.

The supporting cast is good particularly Anastasia Hille as Gertrude who may be more familiar to viewers of Channel Four’s Not Safe For Work. monstagigz is back for the last night on 31/10. It will be great to see in full without the half an hour of hitches which made Saturday unforgettable but difficult to review. Press night 25/8.

NOTE: The Times reporting today that there was a camera in about the third row on Saturday night. We didn’t spot it but then it wasn’t pointing at us. No mention of that as a reason for either restart.

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