Hamlet at the Barbican – 7th October 2015

Expectations are high for Lyndsey Turner’s production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and it’s no lie that Benedict Cumberbatch is a huge part of those expectations. However, disregard the draw of this star and Turner’s production remains an elegant and dramatic production of Shakespeare’s tragedy.

With such a huge name taking on the role, it seems fitting that the play opens on the dejected Hamlet. It is clear from the start that the titular charaIMG_6374cter is on the cusp of an emotional transformation, and Cumberbatch masterfully inhabits Hamlet’s troubled mind; each passionately delivered soliloquy fills this expansive theatre, and the minds of those watching. While Cumberbatch’s Hamlet is perhaps not a radical step away from previous incarnations (anyone that has seen the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2009 retelling starring David Tennant will notice similarities), he fits the role incredibly well and stays a dominant presence throughout the play. Ciarán Hinds (perhaps recognisable to some viewers as a star of Game of Thrones) plays a commanding Claudius, however, his monologues are dwarfed in passion and sincerity by those of Cumberbatch.

The set, designed by Es Devlin, places the play in a vaguely anonymous time, making it clear that Denmark is in the midst of some mid-20th century war, but providing no solid clues as to a specific era. Scenes are grand and enchanting, filled with an attention to detail yet still allowing for seamless transitions between settings. The artful production is more apparent in the second half, when through an elaborate change in design it becomes all too clear that wickedness and corruption have filled the halls of Elsinore. The stage throughout the play is almost always filled – either by actors, props, light or sound. Jon Hopkins’ music provides an atmospheric backdrop to the drama unfolding, especially during Ophelia’s scenes, where it instills both melancholy and sympathy for the hopeless victim of Hamlet’s madness.

Much like Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, Siân Brooke’s representation of Ophelia is largely true to Shakespeare’s play. She is a character who to some viewers may appear whiny and sentimental to an almost overpowering degree, yet whose tragedy arguably overshadows that of the eponymous character in an audience’s emotional reaction. A modern facet is added to her character in her presentation as an amateur photographer – small stylistic additions such as these are present throughout the play and allow new interpretations to be taken away. This is perhaps its main achievement – in its anonymous time frame and small quirks of artistic license Turner’s production reinforces the play’s timelessness, and makes for a thoroughly rewarding production.

The sold-out production runs until 31st October 2015.



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