To Be or Not To Be the Triumph of Cumberbatch

On Thursday night, National Theatre Live was screening the acclaimed new Barbican production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, live to cinemas around the country (87% of the UK cinemas were screening it) and around the world. Just as a reminder, this production of Hamlet ran 80 sold-out performances at the Barbican, making it the fastest-selling show in London theatre history.

I studied Hamlet at university a few years back and the more we studied it, the more I got obsessed with it (if you are reading this, THANK YOU Mrs. C! You were the best teacher!) So no wonder I literally jumped on the tickets when they went on sale!

I saw 2 other productions of Hamlet, both in French, in the past: a classic interpretation with French actor Charles Berling (probably the best 3 hours of my life, well until Thursday night!), and a more modern version (with Ophelia on roller blades…) that wasn’t much to my taste. I was intrigued to see how this production would turn out.

Where to begin? How to explain the beautifulness of the breathtaking set-design up to the paintings on the walls, the decorations, the furniture and the flowers; the stunning performance of the actors; the hypnotising shadows dancing on the walls; the intoxicating music creating a tension and an unnerving atmosphere,… everything?! And the way it was shot made me feel like I was actually there, at the Barbican, a few feet away from the stage!

The play in general was very dark, goosebump-giving, but it also managed to be very funny at the same time. It was definitely the funniest Hamlet adaptation I’ve seen, very witty indeed!

Cumberbatch – what to say? I was already a Sherlock fan – Benedict is now in my top 5 favourite actors. He was simply incredible, touching and absolutely fascinating. Happily sweating the energy and the passion out of all his pores, funny and sarcastic, owning each and every word he spoke. 10/10 – not even one small thing that I would have liked to see done differently. Also, I loved seeing him as a rock’n’roll Hamlet with a David Bowie t-shirt!

I wasn’t quite sure about Ophelia (Sian Brooke) at first, but I fairly quickly changed my mind: as Hamlet is driving her to madness, she melts our hearts. Ciaran Hinds (Belfast represents!!) and Anastasia Hille respectively as Claudius and Gertrude were also remarkable, and I loved seeing Horatio laid back and covered in tattoos!

A few of my favourite scenes:

  • Ophelia’s death: it was beautifully done with a game of lights and music, you see Ophelia disappearing into the shadows while Gertrude finds her last possessions and runs after her, understanding what is happening.
  • The old gravedigger singing with a bone as a microphone while digging Ophelia’s grave.
  • The last battle: breathtaking, in slow-motion, with here again a game of lights when Hamlet strikes Laertes. There were a few other scenes where the world was in slow-motion around Hamlet to give him time to discuss his tormented thoughts with himself and to us.

Bonus point: Benedict Cumberbatch raising awareness for Syrian children, quoting the Somali poet Warsan Shire: “No-one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark… No-one puts their child in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

All in all, I think the National Theatre Live project is really excellent. It’s a great way to vulgarize and popularise classic literature and it’s a really brilliant opportunity for people everywhere to be able to enjoy such wonderful productions without having to fly to London and pay the tickets’ full prices. National Theatre Live will soon also show:

  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – with James Franco, Chris O’Dowd and Leighton Meester, in cinemas on 19 November (NEED to see this one!).
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – in cinemas on 8 December.
  • Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos – with Michelle Dockery, Janet McTeer and Dominic West, in cinemas on 28 January (really want to see this one as well having studied Les Liaisons Dangereuses and even presented it for my French baccalaureat, I love it!).
  • As You Like It by William Shakespeare – in cinemas on 25 February.
A few pictures of the play:

Natter with Sawyer - Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet Natter with Sawyer - Anastasia Hille in Hamlet Natter with Sawyer - Sian Brooke in Hamlet Natter with Sawyer - Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet Natter with Sawyer - Ciaran Hinds in Hamlet Natter with Sawyer - Benedict Cumberbatch and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith in Hamlet“The rest, is silence.”
― William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Natter with Sawyer - Signature


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