Hamlet, National Theatre Live review

Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet for National Theatre LiveBenedict Cumberbatch delivered the perfect performance in the title role for Lyndsey Turner’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet last night for the National Theatre Live. Powerful stage command, brooding sentiment and exceptional comic timing combine with an impressive stage design, thumping sound and music and a solid supporting cast to give the iconic tragedy the memorable outing it deserved.

Performed at The Barbican as a part of its production, which began in August and will come to an end on the 31st October 2015, the play is being screened live at cinemas throughout the UK. There will be dates for National Theatre Live screenings leading up to the end of the run at The Barbican Theatre, and you can check for dates and cinema locations at the National Theatre Live website.

Benedict Cumberbatch (Black Mass) is thunderous in the role of Hamlet, but not just the loud and crashing kind you might expect from the role as he also rumbles with quiet, mad menace to deliver a brilliant performance that will be tough for anyone to match. His range of emotions and expression is phenomenal and he delivers Shakespeare’s immortal lines like he’d written them himself at times, conveying a lot of the meaning through the way he speaks, utters, whispers, quips and roars the words. Even if you’re not terribly familiar with the Shakespearean tragedy you should still be able to follow the rhyme of it all.

He’s surprisingly funny at times, delivering the many puns with great deadpan humour and adding a little physical comedy to the mix to accentuate the jokes that cling beneath the undercurrent onslaught of the play. While most of the scenes are near faultless in terms of his delivery, we were a little underwhelmed by the “alas, poor Yorrick” speech, which lacked the gravitas needed to fit in well with Hamlet’s ongoing wrangle with the concepts of death and suicide.

The majority of the rest of the cast put in very impressive performances throughout the play. Sian Brooke is incredible as Ophelia as she transitions from cautious love interest into the offended countenance of the spurned maiden and lastly the frantically crazed and grieving daughter with effortless skill. Ciarán Hinds (Hitman: Agent 47) makes for a controlled and manipulating Claudius and Anastasia Hille grows into the role of Hamlet’s mother Gertrude as the whole situation becomes increasingly fraught and unraveled.

It was funny seeing Matthew Steer in the production as Rosencrantz following his appearance in Agatha Christie’s Partners In Crime on BBC 1 this summer. It wasn’t easy separating the roles as he continued to tap into his gorkish comedy style, which added a little more frivolity than was perhaps needed considering the fact he goes on to carry an execution letter for his childhood friend as he accompanies him to Britain.

If we’re being honest, we’d initially looked on Hamlet as one of Shakespeare’s sillier outings and the Barbican/National Theatre Live production embraces this, but in so doing it also presents the writer’s potential intent. It’s not the play that is silly or out of touch with reality, it’s the royal court, and political machinations that accompany them that are the butt of the joke and the lampoon is just as relevant today as it was 300 years ago when it was first crafted.

This is a special production of Hamlet and it’s one that has to be seen by any theatre, Shakespeare or Benedict Cumberbatch fans out there. The performances crackle with charged emotion, the set makes for a series of fantastically impressive scenes and the delivery sets a new wild flames to the smouldering coals of the great tragedy. Sadly, you’ll only have until the end of October 2015 to see one of the remaining Barbican performances either at the theatre in London or at your local cinema through National Theatre Live as the productions never make their way to DVD, Blu-ray or digital download.

Hamlet, National Theatre Live review: 4.7/5

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