Review – Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre

Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet  in Hamlet at the Barbican theatre. Image credit: Johan Persson
Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet in Hamlet at the Barbican theatre. Image credit: Johan Persson

When there are 10,000 people in front of you in an online queue for tickets for a show that doesn’t begin until a year later, you know it is going to be something special. And you probably wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the performance in question is Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Benedict Cumberbatch is taking on the leading role.

With a starter kit like this you are bound to have some pretty big expectations, and they were very much fulfilled. Benedict Cumberbatch proved to be the perfect casting choice, bringing his signature charm to the Danish prince’s multi-faceted persona. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Cumberbatch’s prominent Sherlock, who is similarly intelligent, witty, a bit out of this world, yet somewhat warm and likable.

Anastasia Hille as Gertrude and Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet. Image credit: Johan Persson

The entire cast was very worthy of attention but it did feel like they were a bit outshone by Cumberbatch. And the decision to make Horatio look like a wandering backpacker didn’t appeal to me as much.

The show was not a classical rendition, but rather a flurry of time periods and places, all confined in a robin’s egg-blue room at Elsinore Castle. I wondered if this mix was somewhat of a peek into Hamlet’s maddening mind.
Interestingly enough, the main character was actually the first one on stage instead of the castle sentinels in the play’s opening ghost-sighting scene.
Due to its dark storyline Hamlet can be quite a daunting play to adapt, but the director Lyndsey Turner made a number of interesting production decisions that made for a thrilling ride of a show. The moments when the entire cast, except for Hamlet, froze and moved in slow motion, leaving the protagonist to deliver his thoughts, as if to himself, were my personal favourites. In these moments the scenes were rendered surreal and poignant.
One of the play’s central themes, Hamlet’s blossoming insanity, sometimes took rather peculiar forms, like when he marched on a table in a jacket adorned with the word “KING”, much to Polonius’s bewilderment, or hid in a giant toy castle. But such interpretation brought in an element of fun into the otherwise gloomy downward spiraling of a mind.
Ciarán Hinds as Claudius. Image credit: Johan Persson

Running for almost three hours, the play never lets you go and its fast pace keeps you on the edge of your seat. Although it could have been broken down into more or less equal time intervals instead of an almost 2 hour-long first half, and a short 55-minute second. The first half ended with an impressive scene of Elsinore being filled with rubble and Claudius watching it as his rule crumbles. The second half was even more fast-paced: we saw Ophelia walk barefoot on rubble heaps towards her demise,Laertes’s fury and the final showdown between him and Hamlet.

All in all, a vivid show with fantastic visuals and a captivating lead performance.

 Hamlet runs until 31 October at the Barbican Theatre.

Written by Karina Nigmatullina

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