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A Dose of Benedict Cumberbatch Makes the Day Great

A Dose of Benedict Cumberbatch Makes the Day Great

Tonight I had the good fortune to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet at the Barbican.  For those who aren’t familiar with Cumberbatch, he is best known to American audiences for playing Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series Sherlock.  He also played Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness, and was the voice of Smaug in the Hobbit movies.

The production ends its three-month run on October 31, and it’s been virtually sold out for months.  There were still some single tickets available when I arrived in September, but they were £95 each (about $140).  I decided that was too steep for my budget.  When I learned that the Barbican was broadcasting the October 15 performance live in movie theaters across the UK, I planned to see it as a cost-saving alternative.  On a whim, I checked the Barbican website this morning and was astounded to find a few £50 tickets for tonight’s performance.  The same seats cost £95 on other days.  They came with a warning about restricted views, but I snapped one up anyway.

I think the theatre held back a block of seats that it thought would be obstructed by the cameras used for the live simulcast, then released some of them once the cameras were set up and the angles were checked.  It turned that I had a great seat in the 12th row of the stalls (the main floor).  There was only one small bit that I couldn’t see because of the cameras.

I enjoyed the performance, but I have to admit it wasn’t flawless.  As you would expect, Benedict Cumberbatch was excellent as Hamlet.  His soliloquies were riveting, although as one critic put it, he could read the phone book and women would swoon.  Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the actress who played Ophelia.  She had a tendency to mumble, which I found surprising in a Shakespearean-trained actress.  I didn’t have any trouble understanding the other actors, but I had trouble understanding at least half of her lines.  I didn’t think her descent into madness was very convincing either, although I’m sure at least part of that was due to choices made by the director, Lyndsey Turner.

Turner also made several other choices that I didn’t care for.  Quite a few of Hamlet’s lines were played for laughs, especially in the first half of the performance.  It felt a bit irreverent to laugh so much during a tragedy.  In addition, the big duel between Hamlet and Laertes seemed rushed, especially compared to earlier pacing in the show.  The end of the play lost some of its impact as a result.

The production was set in a grand mansion with murky blue-green walls.  It filled the Barbican’s huge stage, and fit the moodiness of the play.  The set was flooded with rubble for the second half of the show.  Cinders were flying the air and the actors had to climb over big piles of rocks.  One reviewer said that the rubble “unsteadies both the actors’ footing and our engagement with the play.”  I have to agree that it was a bit distracting.  I kept thinking “How are they going to clean this up for tomorrow night’s performance?”

I think this satisfies my desire for Shakespeare while I’m in England.  Steve and William were happy to hear that I won’t make them sit through any plays when they’re here after Christmas.  They definitely would not have enjoyed three hours of Hamlet, even with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead!

After the performance, I caught the Tube back to Canada Water, then the bus from Canada Water to Teak Close, getting home around 11:30.  I’m fast becoming a huge fan of London’s public transportation system.  I’ve never experienced anything quite like a packed Tube at rush hour, but so far there’s no place I’ve wanted to that I haven’t been able to get to quickly and efficiently.

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