Thursday, 3 September 2015

Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch

A year ago, I checked my emails. I tend to do this quite regularly, but this morning was different. In my inbox was an email from Timeout (I highly suggest you join their mailing list, by the way) advertising that tickets would go on sale this morning at 10am.

Tickets to what? A stage production of Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

Curious, I clicked the link and instantly joined an online queue. In my great wisdom, I hit refresh, and was suddenly thrust back to number 5000 in the queue. I decided to sit tight, and promptly forgot about it.

At 3pm that afternoon, my browser changed windows and I realised I had finally gotten through to purchase tickets. I spent some time finding two tickets next to each other (as by this stage, most tickets were single seat only), not knowing where I would be on 21 August one year later.

A few weeks before, I vetted Daniel as I wanted to make sure my spare ticket went to the most deserving person.
"Are you free on 21st of August?" I asked.
"Do you like Shakespeare?" I pointedly enquired.
"What is your opinion of Benedict Cumberbatch?"

Suitably impressed with his level of enthusiasm, the extra ticket was his. The tickets had sold out in that one day, and were now as valuable like gold.

Friday 21 August
After a delicious dinner at Gin Joint at the Barbican and a sneaky beverage outside, we made our way into the hall. I had, of course, misread the time and we were bustled to our seat about 1 minute before it was due to begin. We had a restricted view in the stalls on the right hand side of the stage (but what can you expect, being number 5000?) but the seats were still very good. In this position, we were unable to see the back of the stage but had a perfect view of the staircase, centre and left-side action.

Signs were posted everywhere and staff held bilboards stating that mobile phones were to be switched off. It is normal behaviour for it to be mentioned once, but it is my belief that a lot of the people in the audience were not regular theatre goers and were there simply for Benedict Cumberbatch, and therefore were not aware of theatre etiquette (even though you would think it would be common sense). Reminders not to use phones during the play (the light is distracting), not to film and not to take photos were repeated.

Hamlet was on the stage when the curtain rose, playing with a record player (another confusing item that threw out the time period), and everyone craned their neck to see Benedict Cumberbatch as well as they could. Our seats lend itself to a perfect view of this portion of the stage, and so I drank my fill.

The main curtain rose and the first thing I noticed was the set. Despite the tickets only being £30 each, a lot of time and effort had been spent designing intricate and elaborate sets and props. It was all set in one room, with a staircase to the left allowing for further stage areas. I struggled to decide what time period it was set in - some characters wore jeans and t-shirts, others wore what looked like period costumes with flowing dresses or tuxedos and the set design lent itself to a more old fashioned era.

Confession time: I studied Hamlet at university. And to be completely honest with you, I never finished reading it. I enjoyed the booked we paired with it more, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and that has become my favourite play. However, the opportunity to see Benedict Cumberbatch in the flesh and a mild interest in Hamlet was enough for me. I am not a Shakespeare afficiando, and I know that there were mixed reviews written about both the play and Cumberbatch's performance.

All I can say is: I enjoyed it. I thought he did a marvelous job, and was unexpectedly laugh-out-loud funny in places. I didn't feel he was overacting as some of the reviews claimed; to me it felt almost natural, the Shakespearean iambic pentameter.

In addition, I was pleasantly surprised to find another actors face that I recognised. In the intermission, I ran to buy a programme and, flicking through, realised that the uncle was portrayed by Ciaran Hinds, who plays Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones.

The second act saw exactly the same set: open space, set of stairs on the left, but now the entire space was filled with dirt, gravel, stones, rocks and wood and left me thinking, Thank god I don't have to clean up after this.

All in all, an enjoyable performance with great casting and sets, great use of lighting and slow motion to portray Hamlet's internalised conversations. The audience were well behaved (for once!) and many crowded around the outside gate for a glimpse of the man at the end of the show.